A film on terror needs to be almost perfect in its portrayal of facts. As Indian audiences are now familiar with kick ass TV shows like ‘Homeland’, and films like ‘The Hurt Locker’, even a simple flaw on a terror-based film irks massively. And that is precisely the problem with ‘Baby’.
Director Neeraj Pandey’s action thriller about a covert wing of Indian intelligence begins with his signature style of a background voice giving the audience a quick round up of this unique crew of ‘secret agents’ and their dangerous jobs. With references to ‘maximum plausibility’ and serial blast plans, the film becomes a loud adrenaline ride for secret agent Ajay (Akshay Kumar)- and his mates (Taapsee Pannu & Rana Dagubatti, Anupam Kher post interval) in their quest to foil terror. They follow no rules, and curiously, belong to no department or ministry of the Indian government. An authentic looking terror monger from ‘border areas’ of Pakistan is introduced, as the mastermind who wants to free junior mastermind (Kay Kay Menon) from India’s jails to conduct a horrifying attack on Indian cities. Then junior mastermind escapes to foreign lands- and Ajay and his mates, Anupam Kher and Rana Daggubati follow. They land a bonus there. I won’t say more as it is simply not ethical.
Do you feel somewhat confused here? That’s because the film is vague at times. The facts are flawed, and rudimentary. While the treatment is raw and realistic, some blunders are impossible to ignore. Pandey completely ignores the crucial role in filtering terror that security checks at airports and immigration play. Another glaring error is the fact that a boisterous IM/ISI operative is living freely in Mumbai, as a man of the people. Such violations of security and law may exist in India’s fringes (like in my home state, Assam), a security oversight of this proportion is not convincing for post 9/11 Mumbai. Another very weak link in the film is its deafening background score. Even when Ajay and his mates walk into a hotel corridor, the music is thumping, and building up tension. Why? That’s quite unnecessary. Everything is also way too simple for Ajay, the super secret agent to accomplish. He is a bit of common man superhero here. Danny Dangzongpa provides unexpected humor, as the super boss who keeps asking Ajay ‘Ab Kya Karen?’ for everything. You end up wondering why on earth is he the boss in the first place!
But the good parts are in it’s second half. The film becomes pacey and thrills every two minutes. There are quite a few edge of the seat moments. The tension mounted for a covert, quiet but potentially stupendous mission is executed neatly. If the background score were not to threaten my hearing abilities for life, perhaps I would have also applauded moments of repartee between Anupam Kher and Akshay Kumar.
Of the actors, Rana Daggubati, curiously, is in an insignificant and tiny role. Taapsee Pannu has a blink and miss, but she fights well and looks cute. Akshay Kumar is controlled and measured, and perhaps the only star of his generation who is fit enough to pull off genuine bare-knuckle fighting. Anupam Kher is very entertaining. As for Danny Dangzongpa, there isn’t much to say.
There is a superb scene in the film, whereby Ajay shuts the door of an office quietly, and nonchalantly walks up to a Minister’s garrulous personal assistant. Then he lands a thunderous slap on his face. It is lovely to watch! And it wears Neeraj Pandey’s signature touch proudly. Perhaps that’s what I missed in this film the most- and perhaps a good director like him is also judged more critically than his peers.
Watch ‘Baby’ if you like bare-knuckle action, thrills and Akshay Kumar. Not so much for a good, researched film on terror in India.