Post the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, India had embraced the theme of terrorism and nationalism to a new level- especially reflected in its cinema. For decades, we have watched CIA, the FBI, the Mossad and countless other Western counter terrorism intelligence and covert operations portrayed in Hollywood movies.
In India, it was a fairly new trend that initially started by using terrorists as easy villains to create a story where heroes can act as superheroes, that later morphed into more serious undertones post the terrorist attacks.
Make no mistake, many of these movies, be it in India or in Hollywood, tries to portray the underground reality we often miss when it comes to terrorist cells, and sort of gives an assurance to its own people that its government is doing some things that are never officially on record. In short, if you read about one bomb blast, there are dozens working their asses off to prevent 12 other possible bomb blasts from happening. These agents are not plucking flowers from the tulip garden, they are running around all over the world.
Directors such as Kabir Khan and AR Murugadoss had ventured into this territory before, on a hit-and-miss basis. But then you give such a topic and decent budget to go with it to Neeraj Pandey, who is the master of this trade, and you can only expect one result- a fantastic movie. Baby was exactly that.
Pandey is not new to this genre, in fact, it may be his cup of tea. He started with A Wednesay, which was an impossible act to emulate. But he surprised many with the ingenuity and the scripting of Special 26, which was another brilliant movie. Here, with Baby, he notches his screenwriting panache with great locations, fantastic casting, and relentless pace. This is one movie they can create a series from and get away with it.
Baby is paces within a space of only a few days, when one of India’s covert agency (Baby) members turns rogue and reveals that there are several terrorist attacks planned in India over the course of the year even though its chief officer Ajay (Akshay Kumar) had just managed to prevent a bomb blast in the Promenade Mall in Delhi.
The team then trace through the breadcrumbs left by terrorists to travel to Nepal and Saudi Aarabia, among others, to pick up more targets before aiming for the head of the entire terrorist cell.
Baby is ably assisted by Akshay Kumar’s most stellar performance to date. He was brilliant in Special 26 too, but in this movie, Akshay remains in almost every other frame while his co-stars only make episodic appearances- and he owns the scenes in which he participates. His body language and his general demeanour is brilliant for an actor who built up a reputation for his comic timing and not so much as an sleek, covert agent, action hero.
It’s difficult to point out who’s second best among the cast, everyone else were brilliant. Danny Dengzongpa delivered his most majestic performance in recent times, and reminds us how good he can be. His palpable nervousness in the finale of the movie was pulsating.
Anupam Kher delivered few immaculate laughs throughout the Saudi episode, while Rana Dagubatti does little apart from vow with his physique, as there not much scope for him to emote.
Tapsee Pannu, however, steals the show in the mere 30 minutes she’s on screen, absolutely vowing as the female agent that travels to Nepal with Akki’s character. That she had her own solo fight scene, so immaculately choreographed, says a lot, about the weight of the character and the way she had pulled it off.
Kay Kay Menon, as usual, is menacing as the terrorist, but it is Pakistani actor Rasheed Naz who absolutely lives up to the billing as the mastermind behind the terrorist cell.
Sanjay Chowdhury’s background music is fantastic, and keeps you on the edge of your seats.
Baby doesn’t have twists and turns like Special 26 did, but with a fairly linear narration, Pandey still excites you with the treatment of the story- there’s barely any space for you to breath- the scenes are engrossing even at times when the story tends to giveaway when it is possibly leading to.
Stellar performances, a great script, fantastic direction, and commendable locations and camera work means that there is very little fault lines with Baby. It is set out as an espionage thriller and does exactly that, with relentless pace. And doing that at an average Indian film length of 150 minutes is not easy. Pandey deserves applause for that achievement.
The only downside of Baby is one needless song, and the sound of heartbeat in some of the scenes indicating tension. The overplay of drama is the only time one can tend to look away from this film. Genres like these were not often made in India until recently. Hollwyood had always offered the template when it came to “action thrillers”.
Indian cinema is now beginning to chart its own path, and it has makers like Pandey, with able minds to take original content from India itself to weave it into a story.
It it does away with the remaining chinks in the armour (songs do not work with genres like these), Indian thrillers could well be on the way capturing even wider attention.
Arguably the best film of 2015 (at the time of writing, of course).