Before Raabta the movie, there was Raabta the song.
It is a soft, melodious number, and speaks of a mysterious connection between two people who are in love and just about realising it. In ordinary circumstances, the song might have been filmed against a suitably scenic backdrop and featured canoodling lovers. Instead, it takes place in a hotel lobby in the Latvian capital Riga. Hoodlums lurk by the bar. Spies run for cover. Guns go off. All in a single audacious take.
Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod (2012) marked a departure for a director known for noir thrillers. The overly ambitious but ultimately unwieldy thriller features spies played by Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Raghavan’s extreme fidelity to the Bond-Bourne template results in several action sequences, hectic globe-trotting, wry banter, a gallery of colourful villains, a dirty bomb, and the unshakable feeling that there is simply too much going on.
One of Raghavan’s many influences is the Indian version of the Hollywood spy thriller, which has never been shy of throwing in songs to punctuate the narrative. Agent Vinod has three superb tracks: Dil Mera Muft Ka, Pungi, and the standout tune that has inspired the title of Agent Vinod producer Dinesh Vijan’s directorial debut.
Vijan’s Raabta owes its title to the most beautiful song in Pritam’s score. A piano and drums caressed by brushes set the mood for a most unusual version of love on the run.
As Vinod (Khan) and Irum (Kapoor) wait in a hotel in Riga to figure out a way to stop the dirty bomb from doing its work, they engage in flirty banter. When their location is betrayed, they wind their way through the lobby, where a blind woman plays the piano, a mother wheels in her baby, and various tough-looking men enter.
CK Muraleedharan’s camera moves left, right, forward, backward and sideways as it follows the spies’ attempts to escape their attackers. Some of the action takes place off camera, and is indicated through shadows on a wall. Doors open and close, characters enter and exit, weapons are discharged. The camera never loses its rhythm, swirling around the actors in movements as graceful as the carefully choreographed mayhem. Raghavan dexterously transforms the single location into a guns-and-poses drama packed with danger, mystery and romance.
Agent Vinod has several standout sequences that fail to cohere into a meaningful whole. Raabta is one of the film’s high points – a perfect expression of its ambition to localise the spy thriller and prove that when Indian spies run, they are shadowed by great music. At least in this moment, Agent Vinod is one up on the Bond-Bourne films.