After A Wednesday, Neeraj Pandey came up with a commendable sophomore effort in Special 26. While it wasn’t as impressive as his debut, there were a lot of things to like. Pandey is back to his favourite subject of terrorism with his third film and second one with Akshay Kumar in the curiously titled - for this genre - Baby. But Baby is a far cry from A Wednesday. They are not even in the same district, let alone zip code. This time Pandey is in Mission Impossible territory. It is silly. It is at times over the top. It tips its hat to some other works in the genre. And it is a whole lot of fun.
Akshay Kumar plays Ajay Singh who works for the Anti Terrorist Squad headed by - very tellingly named - Feroze Ali Khan (Danny Denzongpa). Pandey declares first up what kind of film it is going to be. It is a bit of a mash up of TV Series 24 and Mission Impossible, targeting terrorists who play to stereotypes. There are characters that mirror their real life counterparts (even the Indian minister, involving a hilarious “face of change” and “change of face” conversation) and there is a case to be made for Islamophobia with this and A Wednesday but Baby doesn’t aim to be high art to be taken as seriously. Unlike his first film, Pandey is not here to start a conversation, talk about terrorism and its impact with some simplistic but convincing common man narratives.
For a high octane action film, Baby works delightfully like a procedural for the most part. The ATS is after a couple of terrorists - one having just arrived from Pakistan and another that escaped custody - and the information about a future attack. It’s fun to see a restrained Akshay Kumar sink in effortlessly into this role and a Danny Denzongpa scenery chewing like no one since Enthiran (Robot). The writing is crisp and minimal and it is also extremely funny without compromising on the tension. Pandey delivers some crackling action and the best of the lot comes from not Akshay Kumar, not the disproportionate looking Rana Daggubati but from Taapsee Pannu who hits it out of the park in the Nepal segment.
This is not the film if plot realism is something very important to you. Baby is an enjoyable ride that does a lot of things right. It doesn’t sacrifice on its tone or move away from proceedings to an unwanted song or duet. Something even Special 26 suffered from. There is never a dull moment and for a proper mainstream masala film it gives some attention to detail like deflating tires to ride into a desert and inflating them back to move back on the road. These little things matter in the large scheme of things and set your film part. And just like for any masala film that works, Akshay Kumar gets a solid hero moment inside the interrogation room.
Baby may take its cues from a number of films. A couple of shots remind you of Munich though both are vastly different films. There is even a throwaway mention of Mossad. The aforementioned MI film influences are all there with the Indian ATS battling terrorists in locations like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Nepal. And like many other Indian films, it ends at an airport. But with some tension and suspense built up like another recent Hollywood film - Argo. What Baby may lack in originality, it makes up for it in authenticity. This Baby is very healthy.