While of late style and technique has seen a manifold increase in Bollywood, filmmakers are also pushing the boundary when it comes to challenging the audience. Yes, there are escapist films being made (and loved as well). However there are filmmakers who are aspiring to merge hardcore commercial cinema with elements that require one to think hard and grasp the context of a scene rather than being spoon fed. 'Agent Vinod' is an example of one such cinema. Though there is always a risk element associated with such endeavours, Saif Ali Khan and Sriram Raghavan seem to have taken a conscious call in this direction.
One has to be very attentive while watching 'Agent Vinod', especially its first half. There are country settings that change every 10 minute while newer characters are also introduced at a rapid pace. It is in fact difficult to keep track of which character is doing what, where and in which time zone. Now while a section of audience is expected to grasp such a challenge with open arms, those used to getting entertained in an effortless manner are bound to feel a little restless.
This means that while the prologue is set in Afghanistan, the film jumps from Russia to Morocco and a couple of other countries at an alarming pace. It is hard work for a viewer to keep track of all the proceedings and with Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) crossing path with a mysterious woman (Kareena Kapoor), an ISI official (Shahbaaz Khan), an underworld kingpin (Ram Kapoor), a business tycoon (Dhritiman Saha), a Colonel (Adil Hussain) and not to forget, a gang-lord (Prem Chopra), there is too much happening too soon.
In the middle of this all, there are quite a few intriguing elements thrown in which means the guessing game continues to be on. The real motive is also disclosed in the middle of the first half and with the plot firmly established; you look forward to the chapters unfolding at a feverish pace. However you are made to wait for a while before the real fun ensues in the second half.
The second half is quite fast paced though and with the focus more on joining the dots instead of introducing the newer ones, Sriram gets it just right for the audience to be thoroughly entertained. One such instance is a shoot out sequence set in a hotel that is canned entirely in a single shot with 'Raabta' playing in the background, hence bearing a clear Quentin Tarantino influence. There are subtle touches of Hitchcock thrown in as well while a few thrilling moments remind one of films like 'The Great Gambler' and 'Teesri Manzil', what with Sriram's love for retro background music in play all over again.
It is primarily due to the second half of the film, especially with an epilogue that strikes just when one thought that the film had ended (on a surprisingly low note), that one gets a sense of 'paisa vasool' affair. One does wish though that the VFX were a lot better in this part of the film. It seems like a rushed job and that is all the more glaring because otherwise the film has a very rich look right through its two and a half hours duration. In fact one has to commend the cinematographer to have tried different colour palettes for various countries, hence bringing in a sense of authenticity.
As Agent Vinod, Saif does quite well and literally lives and breathes the character right through the film's duration. He is just apt for the role and never once does he go overboard. Kareena's role doesn't demand any histrionics from her and she fits the bill.
With 'Agent Vinod' not really set in an escapist world, Sriram and Saif have ensured that it doesn't turn out to be a frivolous outing. They establish the film as a cerebral affair for a good duration and though it does come with it's own pros and cons, at least one can't accuse them of making a film where one is required to leaves brains at home.