Agent Vinod: Interpretations and Reference spotting

Spoiler Alert: This is not a review. This is just a bunch of jumbled thoughts. Sensitive young souls who are still planning to watch the film… read no further.

Long wait for a film getting elongated by circumstances is not new to me. In 2009, I had to wait one week extra for Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey because in western India the release was delayed by bird flu scare (or was it the flying pigs who decided to flu?). I was burning my ill-gotten calories in the Himalayas when Inception released in 2010 (along with Udaan & Tere Bin Laden). When Shaitan released in 2011, I was slacking in Guwahati, a place where limited budget films are bound to get limited releases. Continuing the tradition, I was ogling at multitude of women of confusing ethnicities in Goa when Agent Vinod released.

So, the first thing I did on my return was to book a ticket for the film although by that time the negative vibe was visible everywhere. I had to catch it because whether good or bad, Sriram Raghavan returns only once in 4/5 years. Now, having watched the same, I’m facing a severe dilemma which is not due to the quality of the film but due to my inability to guess the intention of its makers. This is exactly why I am rambling here even though nobody cares about my ramblings. I must express my confusion to get over it and do something else. But before that, let me share a few observations to clear the air.

Agent Vinod


• I still think Agent Vinod was a good film, at least 70% of it. The remaining 30%, as you can guess, mostly include the last few reels of the film. While the build-up is decent, eventually the plot turns out to be a done to death one.
• The opening credit was good but I do not think it was worth all the hype. It was just good, not great, including the BGM.
• Dialogues are consistently witty but sadly out here loudness is always preferred over sharp and clever wit.
• The smart parts are occasionally ruined by subsequent spoon-feeding.
o “Yeh Rubaiyyat darasal ek detonator hain”! Was it really necessary to underline, embolden and italicize the obvious?
• Exotic terrains were explored but not fully exploited in the film. Otherwise why get back to the same old Delhi for the climax when you had the Trans-Siberian railway, Sub-Saharan hinterlands and the Helmand province at your disposal.
• It pulls off one of the best long shots in Bollywood. Not sure if they used some trickery to make it look like one shot. Even then, the job is well done.
• Also notable is the parallel flashback scene involving an LTTE guy with Rakkama Kaiya Thattu playing in the background (I remember the Hindi dubbing of Thalapathi where the song went like Janeman Aja Aja…)
• Turning the rich guy into the villain is as clichéd as it gets, but it prevents the other cliché that is blaming everything on the “parosi mulk” (neighboring country).
• Whatever it is, Agent Vinod is a cool spy because he can pull out hot Middle Eastern woman out of a dirty sack like a magician pulls out the proverbial rabbit.


Now, coming to the business end, I think the mass negativity around the film is a result of its confusing tone. I think so because while it does not scale the expected heights, considering the type of “blockbusters” we’ve had in recent times, a disappointing climax cannot be the only reason for such hostility. So what exactly is Agent Vinod?

A big, racist Camel Joke?
• Personally I wouldn’t mind the same. I’m not sure how many people have seen the OSS 117 series by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin (The guys who made The Artist). The OSS 117 films also spoof the genre. Not exactly laugh riots but they maintain a wickedly entertaining racist tone throughout. Two third of Agent Vinod somewhat falls in the same category. Eccentric villains played by good actors are introduced in gay abandon and they manage to amuse rather than scare.
• Shahbaz Khan shows up after a long time (Do not remember his last appearance but still remember his costume epics in DD). Ram Kapoor gets a break from innocuous hosting duties of discredited “Swayambhars”. Adil Hussain gets some well-deserved screen space (In the suave zone of Danny, not that of Amrish Puri).
• But above all, veteran Prem Chopra plays a wealthy Sheikh who loves his camel more than anything else. And finally towards the last reels when the film moves dangerously close to the glycerine soaked ending of Anubhav Sinha’s Dus (2005), who saves the day? Yes, the dromedary!

A Bond clone with an umbrella reference to the master of referencing?
• Hopefully this is not the case because if so then it fails on both counts. Neither the action achieves the high of a Bond flick, nor does the referencing achieve the finesse of Tarantino. Raghavan himself has done better work at referencing in his previous films.
• Bond is not only about style but also about high voltage action accompanied by wanton destruction of public property. Agent Vinod, like many other recent Bollywood films, prefers rapid editing & CGI over real action. In fact, I think Gadar was the last satisfactory Bollywood action movie, at least for me. Coolth cannot replace the impact of a raw punch by a real son of the soil. Dhoom series, Krishh, Don etc. made the same mistake and sadly Agent Vinod also continues the same.

A bridge to assimilate the “classes” and the “masses”?
• This seems to be the most clichéd but also the most potent possibility. While the director could not let go his own sensibilities, with a huge budget they had to make it more acceptable to the dreaded “masses”! I wish they’d cut down a few locations, reduced the budget and experimented more with the content.

Reference Spotting:

Now, I’d like to point out a few questions that are playing with my mind. These are about real and perceived references in Agent Vinod. In a film like this, it is easy to spot references even when there is none and that is what causing me all the trouble. Some of the references including that to Leone (Sergio not Sunny) are obvious and there is no need to reiterate the same again. But there are some others that I want to be clarified,

• The Russian sections start in a place called Borodino. Was it deliberate too? Is the director a fan of the Great Corsican too?
• Was the thankless cameo of Rajat Kapoor a reference to his thankless cameo in That Girl in Yellow Boots?
• Was the “City Under Threat” scenario a reference to Harry Baweja’s Quyamat (2003), which in turn was a reference to Michael Bay’s The Rock(1996)?
• Was the sinister corporate honcho (Dhritiman Chatterjee) a reference to and continuation of the faceless mastermind in Mission Kashmir (2000)?
• The direction of the chopper towards the end was a reference to Hitchcock?
• Was there a Dr. No/Ursula Andress reference at the end? It was the best one!

PS: I do want the makers to work on a sequel/prequel whatever it is with more serious action and a less clichéd McGuffin.

Rise, fall and rise of a nation: The 20th century as depicted by new German cinema

It is not the first time I am expressing my fondness for modern German cinema. Over the last couple of decades they seem to have churned out films after films dealing with the darker periods of their recent history. While a lot of societies prefer to live in constant denial about certain tainted periods of their past, the Germans seem to be brutally honest and more eager than anyone else to tell those stories. I do not know the reasons for the same. Probably the traumatic experience of the World Wars still drives them to forcefully and dispassionately analyse their past.

Nevertheless, it now seems to be an interesting idea to deal with them in a chronological manner and observe the depiction of the turbulent 20th century by the new age German cinema. For the sake of clarity, the term “new” here is loosely used and I am basically referring to the films made in the last decade or so. That is why films like Das Boot, Europa Europa and Tin Drum are being left out although they suite the theme. I have picked four films to depict four distinct phases purely based on my personal preferences.

The White Ribbon (2009):

Shot in stark black and white with no background score, this film begins with a doctor’s horse tripping over a wire in a sleepy German village. After a few days later the wife of a farmer dies in a freak accident in a mill owned by the local baron. Then a child of the baron is abducted and tortured. This sequence of anomalies continues as the film progresses. Are they being done by someone on purpose? Is one act leading to another retaliatory act of violence and madness? All these events are described through the eyes of a narrator whose younger self is a teacher in the village and who also fancies the young maid at the Baron’s and also tries to investigate the events as they come by.

Well, the director Michael Haneke is actually Austrian. Nevertheless this is a German production and hence I can include it in my list. Furthermore, it is the most unique and allegorical of the four films. While it starts like one, it is not actually a thriller. Haneke lures the viewer into a series of mysteries, makes us wonder what is happening and leaves it there. He is not offering any solutions but he is merely constructing a microcosm of a society moving towards disaster. The serene and sleepy village represents a constrained society where genuine emotions are suppressed with strict social and religious codes. It intrigues you and then leaves you baffled. But what is to be noted is that within a couple of decades these children were going to represent the epitome of fanaticism. Probably Haneke is trying to draw an allegory of raging fanaticism in present times or probably not. Only he can tell us!

Der Untergang (2004):

The Downfall

The kids of White Ribbon’s times are now grown up and things are worse than they could have imagined. Hitler’s reign is now limited to his bunker and apart from a few loyalists there is no one he can trust. There is no hope but they try to hang on as long as possible and wait for the inevitable.

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Downfall is not a war movie but a humane drama that shows a character like Hitler at his most vulnerable. A stellar performance by Bruno Ganz as the ageing and defeated dictator drives this film to its expected yet moving finale where we see the final consequences of their fervent jingoism. There is extreme decadence and destruction everywhere as a nation collapses but the real triumph of The Downfall is in dissecting the very psyche of fanaticism.

Bader Meinhoff Komplex (2008):

Bader Meinhoff Komplex

A bunch of disillusioned youth turns revolutionaries, finds an ideology to associated with and wreak havoc, sometimes for a reason, sometimes without it. This is the post war generation in the capitalist West Germany and this is the real story of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a leftist terrorist group of the 60’s & 70’s. They indulge is several high profile assassinations, bombings and other violent activities, only to fall one by one.

Uli Edel’s film offers high production values, well executed action set pieces and gratuitous sex and violence, which makes it an engaging watch whether one is interested in post-war history or not. It covers all the doom and gloom of extreme leftist activism which was abundant with pessimism about themselves and the world around them. Violent extremism still exists everywhere in the world, this film still remains pertinent.

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003):

Good by Lenin

A young son in erstwhile East Germany struggles with a mother in comma while the country goes through epochal changes. The patriotic mother wakes up after the Berlin Wall falls. The son is alarmed that the mother may not be able to absorb the shock of the demise of her motherland. But at the same time he is also eager to find his father who deserted to the Western side years ago. As the nation is inundated by capitalist products from the west, he tries hard to keep his mother unaware of them with the help of his friend and a lovely Russian nurse.

Wolfgang Becker’s Good Bye Lenin, as the name suggests, is not only a swan song for the communist regime but an endearing drama encompassing the themes of love, loss and family bonding. Some of the efforts made by the son such as creating a fake East German TV program border absurdity at certain times but that is what makes it even more endearing. A terrific ensemble cast helps in pulling off this rights-of-passage film of a young man as well as a young nation in terms of polity.

* This post is a submission for the Reel-life Bloggers contest conducted by Wogma and Reviewgang.