It’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to write a review of a Bollywood film and to be honest, I didn’t think an Akshay Kumar film would be that film but here we are! The horribly named Baby, Neeraj Pandey’s third film, is the Indian action thriller that we didn’t know we needed, and if enough people watch it, I do hope it become exactly the blueprint of what an Indian action thriller *should* be.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, the bar for a ‘Bollywood’ action thriller is so low that in retrospect, Ghajini seems like a classic, especially because it was the starting point for the downward spiral of the garbage dump that were the South remakes, from Bodyguard all the way to Action Jackson. Many of such crimes committed on the audiences in the name of cinema were inflicted by Akshay Kumar himself, so what Neeraj Pandey has pulled off in Baby, with Kumar at its helm, is nothing sort of an achievement!
To reiterate: Baby is an absolutely awesome surprise. I did not go into the theatre expecting to be as thrilled as I ended up being in the nearly three hours of its runtime, which really went by just as fast as the speed in which Akshay ran throughout this movie – because clearly, this time he was running for the cause that is his career. And if this is an attempt at redemption, Akshay can consider all his sins forgotten (including Rowdy Rathore, which I as *very* reluctant to forgive), because the man’s redeemed himself and how.
Baby is another film in the long line of films trying to decode the India-Pakistan issue through a cat-and-mouse game between Pakistani fundamentalists (or ISI) and the Indian ATS/IB/RAW/Whatnot. Where many others have failed in the past, Baby succeeds on the merit of a tight, gripping script that really gives you no time to think in between scenes. The film starts with action, ends with action – and baring a few awkward, cringe-worthy attempts at showcasing the ‘family’ angle of things – there is loads of action everywhere in between.
But the action here follows a plot that is just a little too smart for your average Bollywood action film, and just a little too Bollywood for your superior action thriller. Pakistani jihadists are planning a bigger attack than 26/11 and it is upto Akshay Kumar and his special ATS forces team (codename: Baby) to save the day, but everything done, acted and shown, leading upto the climactic saving of the day is done with great flair, structure and even logic(!). I’ve realised that in that way, Neeraj Pandey may just be the Raju Hirani of Bollywood action thrillers: his films manage to walk run across the fine line between ‘typical Bollywood’ and ‘good cinema’, and deliver some power packed punches in the simplest manner.
So while there are scenes where Danny Denzongpa (brilliant, as usual) spends a good chunk of time explaining the logic behind what is happening and what needs to, whenever there is the opportunity of a seeti/taali moment, Neeraj Pandey never shies away from that either. And there are *many* such moments, and when I heard the audiences maaroing either, for the first time in ages, I didn’t feel like throwing up… because they were surprisingly well deserved! Then, of course, there’s all the humour that Pandey brought to the proceedings in the most unpredictable of ways, and some moments *really* had you laughing hard (especially the ones with the rod and the slap – you’ll know which).
To be very honest, I always thought Neeraj Pandey was a gareebon ka Paul Greengrass, but he’s proved me wrong and how. It’s not that the film is super slick or jazzed up (it isn’t). Could Baby have looked more Agent Vinod and less A Wednesday? Yes. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Because while Pandey has ensured enough aerial shots, wide shots, and other camera tricks to give the film that grandness, what ultimately works for the film is how real it is: not for a second do you believe something like this is not being pulled off by our own soldiers already. And that’s really Pandey’s trump card. He makes make believe believable!
There’s just so much I loved about Baby – the action sequence where Taapsee Pannu kicks major ass, the level of detail wherein after an explosion, Akshay Kumar’s character sports a bruise on his face throughout the film, the fantastic acting by the supporting cast no matter how small or big a role they had, Anupam Kher the legend, and so much more – that the Argo-inspired climax is but a little bump in the bigger picture that is the movie.
So though I already may have, I don’t want to wayyy oversell Baby, but I *cannot* stress enough that this movie deserves to be watched, and in theaters. Watch it for Akshay, watch it for Pandey, or watch it because there is nothing else playing in Indian films that is remotely watchable, but do watch Baby. It is perhaps the most fun you’d have in watching an Indian a Bollywood action thriller.
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