A Wednesday and Special 26 were both brilliant movies. The former is in fact one of my all time favourites featuring absolutely stellar performances by both Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah. Suffice to say with the director’s track record being this good, my expectations from Neeraj Pandey’s latest flick were equally high. Alas, Baby does not deliver (no pun intended!). In fact, it’s pretty bad. Let me tell you why.
At the core, the movie deals with terrorism, specifically the kind directed at India. The movie starts with a prologue in the form of a narration (by Danny Denzongpa) to help understand the background behind the title and help set the stage for the movie’s central plot. The movie then progresses with an undertone of an espionage action thriller. Our main man, Akshay Kumar, is dishing out action in the streets of Istanbul (while a rather docile public just sits and enjoys the violence merely five feet from the combatants) and thwarts the terrorist plans to blow up an upmarket Delhi mall.
However his victory is short lived as he is told (by the captive rogue agent) that this attempt was only the start of bigger things to follow. Now, why would he do that? Wouldn’t surprise be an integral part of any terror attack? Nevertheless, Kumar’s character now has to uncover what is the so-called big terror attack. The mission to identify and stop the said major terror threat forms the crux of most of the first half of the movie.
Cue the big bad guys; first Kay Kay Menon, whose character thinks himself to be a bigger menace than Kasab and yearns to lead the next big terror attack on Indian soil. For someone who regards himself with such high esteem and is supposedly a terror threat, his character barely gets two minutes of dialogue. However, thespian that he is, Menon does a great job of his absurdly limited screen time. He demands release from prison, when speaking with the legal rep for his ilk as he has aspirations to execute another major terrorist attack on Indian soil.
The true mastermind, and the ultimate bad guy, is the man behind the curtain, , who is a Maulana residing somewhere in the border areas. His performance is commendable since he manages to stir genuine hatred for his character every time he makes an appearance (which is quite often). And he does form an integral plot line for the latter half of the movie, which bends the tone of the flick completely (more on that later). Citing the failure of the previous attack, our mastermind orders his minions to help Menon’s character escape so that he can initiate work on the aforementioned major terrorist attack.
An unconvincing prison break from a prison convoy (which seemed inspired by The Dark Knight) gets our bad man Kay Kay to escape into oblivion. I say unconvincing because college flunkies would have done a better job of CGI sequence created for this scene and also because the escape takes place along Marine Drive in broad daylight. Anyone respectable Bombayite will tell you that Marine Drive is never deserted, regardless of time of day. The entire sequence just felt unrealistic and like a badly made dramatization segment on one of the crime shows on late night TV.
The intermission follows a rather predictable setback to the anti terror squad and a personal blow to Akshay Kumar’s character. However intelligence helps them trace the terrorist nexus to Saudi Arabia where the executor of the plan, Menon, is present. A covert op to assassinate Menon is concocted on the fly.
The first stop is at Kathmandu where Akshay Kumar is accompanied by one of the female team members of the Baby Squad. A honey-pot scheme goes awry as the goon discovers her true identity and engages in a one on one combat with her. Obviously our daring woman officer triumphs over evil despite sustaining quite severe injuries. The entire sequence is quite engaging but was undoubtedly placed to gain the women demographic. Nari Shakti!
An interrogation scene helps reveal the next dot that needs connecting which leads them to Saudi Arabia where the executioner of the terror attack plan, Menon , is currently hiding after his prison escape. Enter Anupam Kher’s character, a hacker. Kher does a decent job at keeping the tone of the movie during this section a tad humorous. However the conviction that Kher brought into his performance in Pandey’s previous movies seems mellow this time around. Maybe he shared my sentiment towards the overall execution of the movie and decided to not waste all of his talent and skill.
The assassination attempt forms a good deal of the movie in the second half, but is overshadowed by a rather unnecessary segment involving a plan to now escape Saudi with a more coveted asset, the ultimate mastermind, the Maulana. By this time I had already lost patience with the length of the flick and was hoping for a quick finish.
What bothered me most was the length and sudden change in the tone of the movie. The entire first half of the movie is heavy on action and chases with the focus on discovering the details of the impending terror attack. Post intermission, there is an element of a Mission Impossible style heist assassination attempt and finally almost an hour long segment dealing with the escape plan, which seems heavily inspired by the last 30 minutes of Argo. Somewhere in the editing room, things got a tad messy and they just decided to splice it altogether and make an excruciatingly long movie that would cater to all genres and demographics.
Then there is utter wastage of talent. Actors such as Kay Kay Menon possibly get less screen time and dialogue than the actor playing Akshay Kumar’s wife. And no, she can’t act. Anupam Kher also seems underutilized and disinterested this time around. Danny is almost always confined within the offices of the Intelligence wing and only has dialogues over the phone.
The movie’s title, Baby, is the code name of the program and the team. But apart from Akshay Kumar, you don’t really get a sense of the backgrounds of the other surviving team members. There is no connection that the audience makes with any of the other characters to justify the level of suspense and thrill that you’d experience during the action sequences.
The story is riddled with holes and thin plotlines that would have been magnified ten-fold has this been any other director. However, for some reason, the media and critics seem to be completely fine with these inconsistencies and have decided to call Baby a triumphant movie. Well, the movie does triumph. It triumphs over good cinema and intelligent film-making. I’d advise you to wait till the flick is broadcasted across the major movie channels in a few months to watch this debacle. But then it is your money and time, so go ahead.
P.S. If you think I’m the only person who feels the way I do about the movie, do read the review by Kathy Gibson. She echoes my thoughts a lot better than I do.