Fundamentally, as an espionage film in a world of sleeper terrorist cells embedded in a financially braided capitalist universe, Agent Vinod is a credible film. It is well conceptualised, beautifully shot, and its action sequences are some of the best in recent Hindi cinema.
The problem—paradoxical for a thriller—is that it is too fast paced. It moves way ahead of its own plot. As a result, you have no time to absorb the story, characters or exotic cultures in the many foreign locations it selects. It’s like a hyperactive individual telling you a fascinating anecdote while rushing in and out of a room juggling chores. The tale soon becomes a blur of events: you lose the plot, your mind drifts and you finally start laughing at the guy telling the story.
After circling the globe, traversing several likely suspect nations harbouring nuclear ‘dirty bomb’ makers or their financiers, Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) of the Research & Analysis Wing of the Indian Government returns to South Asia. This part of the film works well, not because we are familiar with the cultures, but because director Sriram Raghavan suddenly slows down the pace. That allows time for interaction between characters and makes it possible for flashes of genuine humour to be inserted.
When a rickshaw commandeered by a terrorist stops at a traffic light in New Delhi, two extra large women with their shopping bags shove themselves in, tap him on the shoulder and give him directions. That is the kind of scene you needed at the beginning of the film, not at the end of an exhausting world tour. Which is a pity, because Agent Vinod is ideologically non-toxic. It does not attribute nationality or community to terrorism. It offers human greed as its cause. Also, it is nice to see contextualised vignettes that reference bits and pieces of film history. If only the movie had contextualised itself a little better.