By Karthik Shankar:
Is Baby really our best attempt at emulating politically conscious thrillers?
Quickly then – The movie’s title refers to a newly formulated, specialised intelligence cell that targets terrorists. The Bollywood flick details the team’s efforts to nab a syndicate of Islamic terrorists, both Indian and Pakistani, who have planned a series of terror attacks around India.
One of the only complex ideas in Baby comes early on when the head of Baby, Feroze Khan, tells a minister that people turning to fundamentalists is the State’s weakness because people don’t have enough confidence in the State. The rest of the movie then completely ignores that nuance because what we need are more moustache twirling villains beaten by manly heroes.
At a time when American Sniper is making waves at the US box office and attracting a lot of controversy for whitewashing a sociopathic killer, Baby is just as noxious. Baby cloaks its illogical plot with the serious socio-political concerns of our world today without delving into them. It’s like walking into a theatre expecting a high minded thriller and instead getting served the tales you made up with your G.I Joe action figures! No kidding, and here’s why:
1) Superheroes without tights
The very idea that Indian intelligence has the ability to carry out covert operations around the world like the CIA or Mossad is a fanciful bit of concoction on the screenwriter’s part. The team of Baby not only prevents attacks in suspiciously empty parking lots in Delhi malls, they also gallivant across the world making the world a safer place to live in for the Indian diaspora.
Baby presents our fighters as superheroes and asks us to venerate them even further. Don’t let its real world trappings influence you, this is basically a more prestigious version of Bollywood’s machismo infused masala films. Except this time you can enjoy it without guilt. Baby has a mash up of influences, from Argo to Zero Dark Thirty. However, its truest spiritual companion would be Rambo.
2) Sort your Muslims into black and white
Right from the start Baby helps us out by classifying Muslims into two camps – good and bad. Bad Muslims are steeped in religious culture, usually wear topis and speak liberally sprinkle their Hindi with Urdu words. Good Muslims wear well coifed suits or western wear and actively help government anti-terrorist cells.
At every point, the good Muslims are presented as out of the norm. Feroze Khan, the head of Baby wears perfectly tailored suits and simply exists as an authority figure who appears slightly frazzled when nothing goes according to plan. When a young college educated boy informs the cell about clandestine terrorist training camps in Nepal, the protagonist Ajay Rajput played by Akshay Kumar intones “I’m very proud of you” with absolutely no trace of irony. That’s clearly intended to be India’s message to young Muslims. If only the movie at least made a pretence of being interested in that character who is risking his life by being an informant. Instead he is tossed aside like yesterday’s stale dal chawal.
3) Jingoism is not a word, it’s a sentiment
Baby’s real fervour is reserved not for Ram or Allah but for our motherland. Feroze waxes eloquent about his team’s devotion to India to a minister by referring to it as ‘Desh Bhakti’.
In one scene, Ajay storms into the residence of Taufeeq (Jameel Khan), a man who has connections with Pakistani terrorists. A conversation ensues where they make thinly veiled threats at each other. Taufeeq then explains how being Muslim is the core of his identity. Ajay then deadpans – “Religion wala jo column hota hai usmein hum bold aur capital mein Indian liktey hain.” (In the religion column, we write Indian in bold and capital letters). Akshay Kumar and team deserve a big round of applause. Telling Muslims that they have to choose between their Islamic and Indian identities will totally solve the war on terror.
4) You are with us or against us
Baby’s climax is the most disconcerting part of the film. It hinges on the actions of a Muslim, a Saudi investigator who is hot on the trails of our protagonists. As Ajay and his group make their way to an international flight from Saudi Arabia along with a drugged, hate spewing Pakistani cleric, the investigator played by Hasan Noman has to make a split second decision about whether to let their flight take off. After all this sleuthing, he is seized by what can only be a bout of ‘F-ck yeah India!’ and makes the decision to let our heroes go scot free. His label of good Muslim hinges on this decision. After all, if he had done his job properly he would have sided with the terrorists. If only real life was this beautifully nuanced.
5) Democracy is overrated
The movie continually justifies the use of paramilitary forces to achieve justice. When Ajay deals with Taufeeq, he chooses the delightful method of strangulation with a plastic bag to wrangle information out of him. When the Baby team is formulating its next plan of action, Ajay rejects the idea of going through official lines to take out a terrorist because it would lead to delayed action. At no point is the idea that some of the suspects they are pursuing might be innocent, or not wholly culpable, even considered. But with terrorists this overtly evil, who needs justice? We just need to gun them all down amirite or amirite mate?!
The definite choice for the Critic’s award for 2015. Not. Or maybe (rigging much?).