If there is one genre of filmmaking Indians have failed to master consistently, it has to be thriller. But Director Neeraj Pandey's Baby is one of those pleasant surprises that come out rarely from Bollywood. It's sleek, well-timed and engaging.
Baby is about a just-established group of professionals out on a mission to fight terrorists anywhere in the world. They are required to protect Indian boarders as it is facing threats from immediate neighbours. These undercover agents are ready 24x7 to risk their lives for the country. ATS chief Feroze Ali Khan (Danny Denzongpa) describes them aptly: "Humko kuch sirfire officers mil hi jaate hain jo desk ke liye marna nahi jeena chahte hain."
Now, these trained professionals are not allowed to reveal their identities, and therefore their deaths too are never in public domain. Ajay Singh Rajput (Akshay Kumar) is the best of these agents: He's 'performed' the tasks in many countries, braving some of the most hostile conditions. So it is not surprising that he's being sent on a new, dangerous mission: To exterminate Bilal Khan (Kay Kay Menon) in Saudi Arabia. But there is a shocker waiting for him that would change the meaning of his entire life as agent.
Baby doesn't waste much time in coming directly to the theme. Like any good screenplay, the first few scenes establish the fact that it's an all out war on terrorism which is using the world as its canvas. The story keeps moving between Istanbul, Nepal and the Gulf, at times even alluding to corrupt religious leaders and their fanatic followers.
Ajay's helped in his mission by a few: master planner Shukla Jee (Anupam Kher), super commando Jai (Rana Daggubati), honey-trap Priya (Taapsee Pannu) and the meticulous executioner Ashfaq (Mikkal Zulfiqar). Together they have taken a vow to crush all the audacious ambitions of a militant leader Maulana Rehman (Rasheed Naz). Though the film hasn't touched the depths of the functioning style of detective-agents, it has more or less captured the basic essence of it.
Like Pandey's debut film A Wednesday, this one too alludes to the efficacy of direct action against terrorists and thus his characters are mostly seen doing physical action. Use of closed or claustrophobic spaces is limited to only those scenes that involve violence while the larger part of the narrative utilises open spaces. This was evident in Pandey's other film, Special 26 as well where the lead characters were less talkative and more action oriented.
The flow of the story is unidirectional and it serves the purpose mostly because it subtly showcases the growth of the conflict line and partly because the second twist successfully acts as the nut graph. Though the role of Abdul Haq, played by an excellent Sushant Singh, doesn't contribute much to the story other than giving it an international touch, it demarcates the threads of investigation. Taapsee Pannu is brilliant in the sequence where she suppresses her fear to trap Haq. She looks absolutely believable in the prolonged feast fight.
On second thoughts, this sequence was probably required to present the film as a politically neutral story. Abdul Haq, a business front for 'hawala' money, bluntly says, "Main service deta hoon, uske paise leta hoon. Mera kisi Hindu-Musalman se koi lena dena nahi hai."
Akshay Kumar's deadpan romance with his wife (Madhurima Tuli) is penetrating and the drama heightens when she waves him off on a new mission by saying, "Marna mat (don't die)."
There is another sequence where the minister asks Feroze after hearing his plan, "Who do you think you are, Mosad?" This carves out the difference of ideologies and the lack of willingness on the government's part. The director is very careful in showing Indian Muslim characters who are working to make the country unstable. He is always trying to strike a balance between a good Muslim and a confused Muslim, and this gives Baby an authentic touch. There is one Ashfaq or Feroze for every Bilal or Javed.
The writing is witty. Consider this scene. Somebody orders Ajay to stop from behind and then they ran towards him only to catch the other person standing next to him just because he was carrying a bottle of liquor while bigger things keep happening around.
The climax is strikingly similar to Argo, but with a little lesser planning and tension. Baby is not overtly dramatic and that saves the day towards the ending. The tempo is just perfect and the pace suits the situation. It's a thriller in every sense; however Akshay getting calls from his wife in the middle of mission somehow hampers the fluidity. This reminds me of the scene where Mumbai Police Commissioner Anupam Kher receives a call from an insurance agent in a tense scene of A Wednesday. That was funny though.
Akshay Kumar is very impressive and carries the film on his shoulders. Though he couldn't completely leave the greed of looking like a superstar, he is still the one who steals the show. Taapsee is good and Sushant Singh is the surprise package of Baby. Rasheed Naz is terrifying as Maula Rehman, but Kay Kay Menon is not utilised well.
Neeraj Pandey is once again at it and Baby seems like another winner from him. His grip on screenplay provides him the edge.
Overall, Baby is a fine thriller which will keep you glued to your seats for more than 150 minutes. It's a must watch.