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Why BABY is an exceptionally well-made espionage thriller?

A work of sublime depth and vision.

Hitherto, Bollywood has not met with much success in the action- thriller/espionage genre (with “D-Day” and “Johny Mera Naam” being the only exceptions – more than 40 years apart). Rarely do you come across an Indian movie that doesn’t hit a single false note. “Baby” is one such film. Writer-Director Neeraj Pandey has made a brilliant film that is not only technically at par with the best in the world, but it’s also a dispassionate, non-judgmental take on terrorism that’s completely devoid of jingoism and is extremely gripping. This is about the brave men and women fearlessly serving the nation and making sure you rest easy.  After memorable films like “A Wednesday” (2008) and “Special 26” (2013), director Neeraj Pandey totally nails it with this raw and meticulously-crafted take on the genre. “Baby” is among Bollywood’s most grown-up action-thrillers. Its scale is lavish, zipping between India, Nepal, Turkey and the Middle East.

A plot with breathless momentum.

The story follows an Indian black ops unit headed by Firoz Ali Khan (Danny Denzongpa); the unit is code-named “Baby” and are responsible for neutralizing the numerous threats spreading terror in India. The film covers three such covert operations in which the government officials secretly send their “babies” across borders to eliminate threats. Ajay Singh Rajput (Akshay Kumar) is Firoz’s most trusted intelligence agent, and the unit manages to avert several terrorist endeavors in its experimental 5-year run. The team also includes Shukla (Anupam Kher) and Jai (Rana Daggubati). The mastermind of a terrorist group, Maulana Mohammed Rahman (Pakistani actor Rasheed Naz), sits cozily somewhere at a Pakistani madras in proximity to the border, and easily manages to brainwash impressionable, blind followers into spreading terror along with the help of IM head Bilal (Kay Kay Menon). On receiving Intel about an upcoming terrorist attack, Ajay, with his team, begin what could be their final mission, in a lavish, round-the-globe crackdown of all possible threats to the country.

Striking performances by the entire cast. The characters are confident and unpredictable and clever and so goddamned charming.

Akshay Kumar is terrific as Ajay whose core of steel you can almost feel. Akshay is at his best – deadly serious in combat and wryly engaging with straight-faced humor. He’s quite literally tailor-made for this role – flushing out his hard-nosed acting chops and martial arts skills with aplomb and equal measure.

You feel menace, too, when Rasheed Naz makes diabolical speeches in his superb performance as the film’s lead villain, Maulana Rahman.

The rest of the cast match up equally well – Danny Denzongpa is sublime as Feroz, the unit chief whose love for nation and team often escape his quiet bureaucratic suits. Tapsee Pannu and Sushant Singh have dazzling cameos while Rana Daggubati, in a small role provides muscle to the under-cover team. Anupam Kher as tech-savvy strategist Shuklaji, weaves magic in his short screen time, bringing deadpan humor in least expected situations, and the criminally underrated Kay Kay Menon exudes menace through unnerving, unblinking eyes.

Screenplay is sheer magic!

The narrative of the film flows like a well-made international film – actors filter in only where required and they’re not repeated just because it makes commercial sense from a typical Bollywood perspective. The real hero of Baby is its screenplay – flowing lucidly and taking you on an engrossing journey of thrills, intrigue and surprises. Bullets are peppered with classic one-liners embellished with dry humor, which keep you entertained throughout – a couple of interrogation scenes and the expletive-laden warfare between Shuklaji and Ajay being prime examples. The precarious uncertainty in the life of an officer involved in covert operations has been portrayed in a subtle but telling manner. Ajay’s wife (MadhurimaTuli) isn’t exactly aware of her husband’s job profile, but does tell him intermittently, “Bas marna mat” (Just don’t die). A scene where Ajay slaps a minister’s PA for his flippant, apathetic remark on the death of his colleagues is sure to evoke rapturous applause even from the most sedate of viewers. Taapsee is part of one operation. Anupam Kher and Rana Dagubatti join the team only in the scorching, extended-climax sequence shot in Abu Dhabi.

Cinematography, editing and direction.

Baby is gorgeously shot by Sudeep Chatterji, with visuals that will remain etched in our imaginations – the desert dunes shot in nothing but shaded moonlight are nothing short of spellbinding. He has done an exceptional job especially in the chase sequences in Istanbul and the desert escapades in Abu Dhabi. Sanjoy Chowdhury’s background score is the heartbeat of “Baby” as it instills the required emotions at opportune moments in the course of the narrative. Shree Narayan Singh’s editing is exceptional. Even though the duration of the film is over two and a half hours, the taut pace keeps you hooked. The last few minutes are as nail-biting as anything you might’ve ever seen.

This is a stirring, touching film but it stays impressively away from overt manipulation. Neeraj’s craft has grown – he’s taken trademark touches from erstwhile efforts, and enhances them here on a grand scale; the climax is his best assembled sequence yet. Balancing characters, conspiracies and cities, director Neeraj Pandey admirably keeps the film rich, yet tight, researched, minimally sentimental, and steely-eyed. Pandey is indubitably one of the hottest directors working today in Indian cinema, and a genius in the making. “Baby” is not just a cinematic experience at its very best; it has the potential to go down as one of the finest films ever made in Indian cinema. Any film that deals with patriotism is inspiring but when you start looking at a world which is hardly known to you, it gets intriguing. This is the attempt from the film-making team and it sure was amazing, almost groundbreaking one. The first half goes around with the layering of the plot and it is filled with its share of action, drama and powerful dialogues. The interval bang was great and the second half continues the same momentum in connecting the dots. This is a film which is not only good in its packaging but will leave you with a sense of respect for the brave officers.

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