Makers of Bollywood thrillers are obsessed with counter-terrorism ops. So in recent times, Hindi movie fans have witnessed the heroic exploits of many an undercover agent and wondered where the truth of such covert missions really lies.
Neeraj Pandey's oddly-titled Baby does little to dispel the questions. Worse, it perniciously plays up prejudices in the bid to give its storyline a jingoistic context and mass appeal.
After busting sleeper cells last year in holiday, a soldier is never off duty, action hero Akshay Kumar is back in business to send the terrorists packing all over again.
This time around, not only does he have to stand up to brutal adversaries from the enemy camp, he also has to reckon with rivals within the ranks.
But his intrepid excursions into danger zones, despite his nonchalant swagger, yield nothing more than a strong sense of deja vu.
This is Akshay's second film with Pandey after Special 26, and it isn't a patch on the earlier outing.
Despite its largely realistic approach to the theme, Baby is an unconvincing portrayal of the life and times of a brave spy whose job is to thwart terror plots.
The film draws many of its plot details from real people and incidents. But, in constructing its worldview about good guys and bad guys, it goes completely overboard with overt alarmism and finger-pointing.
The principal villain of the film is a Hafiz Saeed-like maulana who, from his hideout on the other side of the border, plots terror strikes against India.
To foil the proxy war, counter-terrorism operative Ajay Rajput (Akshay Kumar), one of the last surviving members of an elite team of secret agents set up after 26/11, crisscrosses the world in pursuit of the radicals.
Baby might have worked to an extent as an espionage drama had the characters been more persuasive and their worldview a little less shallow.
The hero never evolves beyond a typical single-dimension Hindi movie protagonist. While he is an invincible man who can do anything and get away with it, the terrorists are dolts who walk blindly into the traps that he lays for them.
Taapsee Pannu, in a de-glam avatar, turns in a passable cameo as a female undercover agent who packs a mean punch.
That apart, Baby has quality actors like Kay Kay Menon, Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa and Sushant Singh in roles that are supposed to be authentic representations of the actual world.
But neither the cast nor the screenplay has enough substance to support the bellicose bombast at the heart of the film.
This cinematic take on the serious business of fighting devils, known and unknown, internal and external, is deeply flawed and tendentious.
There is absolutely nothing innocuous about Baby. - Saibal Chatterjee
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Taapsee Pannu, Rana Daggubati, Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa, Sushant Singh, Mikaal Zulfiqar and Rasheed Naz