Neeraj Pandey is probably a rarity in contemporary Hindi cinema. While the “masala entertainer” constantly goes through a lot of churning, becoming more and more outlandish by the day, Pandey’s movies are a solid reminder of how powerful these movies can be, if rooted in contemporary issues. His previous movies A WEDNESDAY and SPECIAL 26 are testament to this.
We also got a glimpse of what Akshay Kumar is capable of, with the right script in hand and the right man guiding him, in SPECIAL 26. This means that, in Pandey’s latest film BABY, you can sense that Akshay feels right at home in the Pandey universe of sharp one-liners and fast-paced narratives.
Let me be honest at the start–BABY has a great ensemble cast, but everyone else pales in comparison to Akshay, and to an extent, even Danny Denzongpa. Denzongpa, as Feroze, heads the secret intelligence project, codenamed BABY, that is designed to take out enemies without endangering civilians or inconveniencing foreign authorities. Unlike most movies that glorify the police or our armed forces by taking jingoism to unheard-of levels, BABY succeeds in earning and directing our respect for the numerous unknown operatives who risk their lives for us. And it does so, without any fuss or hyperventilation.
The script of BABY is its best weapon. It’s an absorbing spy thriller spanning a number of countries from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, and Ajay (Akshay) is right in the middle of it. Using his brain and brawn, Ajay manages to outwit terrorists and moles within the intelligence wing to great effect. He and Feroze share a great camaraderie, and yet he’s fully aware of the fact that he’s expendable to the Indian government, if caught. This provides for some brilliant action sequences, which are choreographed by Cyril Quenel Raffaelli and Abbas Ali Mughal.
Technically, BABY is a visual treat. Sudeep Chatterjee’s lensing is fast on its feet, especially during the action sequences, and again during the Saudi leg. This, coupled with Shree Narayan Singh’s deft editing, ensures that you don’t even want to bother getting up from your seat during the interval. However, Pandey needs to learn ASAP how to use sound properly. Sanjay Chowdhury’s background score is good, but also jarringly loud. It’s almost as if the emotional quotient of a particular scene is being hammered into the heads of the audience, rather than letting it seep through.
BABY has a great cast, but the problem is that so many talented actors get so little- screen-time. Kay Kay Menon as Bilal, Rashid Naz as the Maulana and Sushant Singh as Wasim Khan are all superb as antagonists. Rana Daggubati, Taapsee Pannu and Anupam Kher are also excellent, but they are all side-players in what is essentially the Akshay and Danny Show.
As a result of some lapses, BABY is a Neeraj Pandey film that is thoroughly entertaining but also forgettable after some time. A WEDNESDAY and SPECIAL 26 were exceedingly good, because you felt emotionally invested in the characters. BABY, on the other hand, serves as an excellent showreel of Akshay Kumar the actor, as well as Neeraj Pandey the storyteller, and nothing more. It’s always worth a watch.