Starring: Akshay Kumar, Rana Daggubati, Danny Denzongpa, Anupam Kher, Taapsee Pannu, Rasheed Naz, Kay Kay Menon
Directed by Neeraj Pandey
For me a rankling aspect of Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday was the manner in which all the film’s Muslims were shown to be either terrorists or pathologically prone to violence. In Baby, Pandey’s brushstrokes get broader and more surefooted. Jamal, Bilal, Taufiq, Rafiq, Ashfaq, Javed, Aftab, Junaid, Sameer—most of the many Muslims are terrorists. Maulana Mohammed Rahman is the big daddy of them all. In the name of supposed ‘realism’, the film plays on and magnifies the popular perceptions about ‘Islamic terror’. Every skullcap and prayer or greeting harbours menace. In the middle of this community of jehadists, to achieve some ‘balance’, the chief of the undercover unit tasked to eliminate terrorism is called Feroze (Danny). There is also a token good Muslim boy patronised cringingly by the good agent, Akshay Kumar. He is one of the agents who are all unbelievably efficient and committed. The kinds who put country before family and self. Who write ‘India’ in capitals, in forms that ask them their religion, unlike those who fill in ‘Muslim’. Why, they even save Muslim families in riots. Their names are as telling: Ajay Singh Rajput, Jai Singh Rathore, Priya Suryavanshi—you get the drift.
This Muslim rant apart, I think after A Wednesday, Special 26 and, now, Baby, we may as well talk of a genre of films—the Neeraj Pandey variety. The three films may seem different but are uncannily similar in how they highlight a profound disenchantment with the system. The solution offered is to either subvert the system from within or to work outside of it.
So, in Baby you have India’s counter-intelligence agents planted in nations supposed to be harbouring terrorists. As they put it themselves, they fight the war not at the border but “ghar mein ghuske (by entering the homes)”. These are unofficial missions which the government would disown the minute they are outed. Baby is such an elite, undercover team chosen after 26/11 from amongst the best in the armed forces. It almost functions like the army itself and is called Baby because it has been put together for a term of only five years.
Much like other espionage thrillers like Agent Vinod and Ek Tha Tiger, Baby too gets viewers to see a lot of the world—Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Nepal. It is all predictable, fashioned on B-grade Hollywood thrillers. You can guess how things will move forward and how all loose ends will be tied up. But the chases, raids and police procedures are engaging and well-crafted and have an air of authenticity. There are some mandatory moments of humour also to break the overbearing tension. The second half is a build-up to the final mission—the one to beat all the missions. Which seems so easy and effortless in its execution that one wonders if Indians are the only intelligent human beings in a world full of idiots. In a nutshell, Baby is terrorism served up for some popcorn-coke thrills.