At a critics’ level and for the demanding cineaste, “Baby” is that near-perfect textbook espionage thriller we have been dying to see: straight and business-like, fast-paced, without frills, and immaculately detailed to the point of occasional verbosity (we also saw that in the TV series “24”). But this is also a film that attempts ambiguity about which the nasty terrorist country is (with sops like the presence of Pakistani artists – Rasheed “Khuda Kay Liye” Naz as the main villain and Mikaal Zulfiqar as a good guy), which was something Hindi cinema did pre-“Border.”
From the audience side, however, the film has some prominent deficiencies despite its lavish budget – the action has little diversion except a mention of Akshay’s domestic life off and on but no one else seems to have a family; there are no songs (but for a half-song) even in the background and thus no relief from the standard and loud background score; and above all, the film clocks in at a length of 160 minutes, and no surprises in the narration whatsoever.
With Akshay occupying center-stage at all times, alongside Danny Denzongpa thrown in as the Intelligence chief, we only have fleeting appearances by others. Taapsee, Kher and (effectively even) Rana have roles only in the second half as agents. Madhurima, poor thing, gets a miniscule role as Akshay’s wife. There is little attempt to enter the life and emotions of the other agents. This is no “Special 26” where Akshay was one of the main characters, but an out-and-out “hero” film depending on his super-stardom. But even here, the film repeatedly comes up with an anti-climax-like feel-good factor in many missions, where everything goes right and the slight tension is almost immediately defused.
Technically brilliant with crisp dialogues, the film is about a crack team of intelligence officers out to prevent crimes against India and on a perennial mission to kill the villains who are planning or executing them. The team called “Baby,” as it is new and confidential, is finally vindicated with the elimination of the masterminds who wanted to eliminate India. The action zooms from Istanbul and Kathmandu to Indian metros and the Arabian Gulf. It is quite extraordinary and real (the stunt coordinators led by Cyril Raffaeli may take a bow) and on the plus side, the one-dimensional and cold characters are sharply etched. About 30 minutes of the total movie are on bringing back a dreaded terrorist to India and the complications that ensue.
If the film is watch-worthy, a huge chunk of the credit goes to Kumar, whose performance is truly impressive despite his uni-dimensional characterization. Everyone else is good, especially Danny and Kher.
But at a base level, director Pandey, with every film, is going away from the emotions that were his mainstay in “A Wednesday!” The bigger he gets, the more superficial is the film. The sequence on Marine Drive is completely absurd as no one seems to be around to stymie the baddies and there is little crowd either in this busy hub! The killing of a cop on his wedding anniversary is skimmed over quickly, without the character being established properly, so we hardly feel for the man and his tragedy as we are on to the next sequence.
This film will coast to success on its assets, but Pandey should now revert to his emotional forte in his next. As an espionage drama, this film does not have even a fraction of the emotional voltage of memorabilia like “Sarfarosh,” “Dus” or “D-Day” and yet it will probably make more money.
T-Series, Friday Filmworks, Cape of Good Films & Crouching Tiger Productions present
‘Baby’: Espionage Thriller is Gritty but Overlong
Produced by: BHUSHAN KUMAR, KRISHEN KUMAR, SHITAL BHATIA & NEERAJ PANDEY
Written and directed by: NEERAJ PANDEY
Music: M.M. KREEM & MEET BROS. ANJJAN
Starring: AKSHAY KUMAR, RANA DAGGUBATI, TAAPSEE, MADHURIMA TULI, DANNY DENZONGPA, ANUPAM KHER, SUSHANT SINGH, KAY KAY MENON, RASHEED NAZ, MIKAAL ZULFIQAR, MURLI SHARMA Sp.app.: ESHA GUPTA & others.