Released on 23 January, just days before U.S. President Barack Obama travels to India to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the film offers a timely take on an issue that impacts both countries - and the world.
If you are new to Bollywood, here are five reasons to watch Baby.
The premise is that Indian black-ops team "Baby" - made up of 5 elite spies - is created to stop a terrorist plot. With terrorist stories featured daily on the front pages of newspapers around the world, the issue of terrorism is treated with the appropriate level of gravitas in this film. Indeed, the film opens with a gory sequence that disturbs, reminding you of the stakes at hand. In an IBNLive.com article, director Neeraj Pandey explains:
"... Baby is an authentic take on a very real and disturbing danger to global peace. There's no room for flights of fancy here. It's set in a real incident. The purpose of the film is to recreate a specific real life situation. We can't control the take-outs from the plot. It's up to the audience to carry home what they like. We have a very real story to tell."
In a Times of India interview, Akshay Kumar explains:
"You must have seen films on Armymen, Navy and Air Force before, the police, BSF and when they do something commendable, they are given medals, money, certificates, honours... But have you ever thought of spies? They are not allowed to say that they are working for the government. So, if they are ever caught, they can never reveal their identity, the country will never call them its own. These are the people who operate outside the country, because the base of terrorism is outside. This film is about those unknown heroes. The news of their death can't be mentioned in the papers either. They are completely selfless, the only thing they care about is their country. I was thinking, why has nobody made a film on such people? That's the USP of Baby — it's about those unknown people whom nobody cares about."
The story is well-crafted though somewhat predictable as the Baby team works it's way up the pecking order to get to the leader of the terrorist plot. But this is no straightforward tale - there are enough twists and turns and edge-of-your seat thrills to keep you engaged through to the very end.
The stereotypical bigger-than-life bad guy and good guy characterizations are muted in this film. Every character has an agenda. Every character is capable of doing harm and good. Every character is embraced by some, reviled by others. It is their purpose that identifies our view of them.
Akshay Kumar slips into the role of in-the-field team leader Ajay Singh Rajput with ease. His action scenes are believable and his performance convinces you that any mission he attempts will succeed. Unfortunately, he has a history of making rash decisions. Despite being a spy, he has chosen to marry and have children while keeping his profession a secret. When dealing with terrorist network prisoners, he is most likely to beat them before questioning them. Even team member and seasoned computer hacker Om Prakash Shukla (Anupam Kher) doesn't want to work with him because he considers Ajay's choices a potential threat to his survival.
Despite these misgivings, the Baby team successfully comes together. Ajay's team members - Danny Denzongpa as Feroz Ali Khan (the head of Baby), Rana Daggubati as strongman Jai Singh Rathore a.k.a. "The Hulk", and Taapsee Pannu as team member Priya Suryavanshi - each bring a set of skills to the mission. As the only woman on the team, Taapsee's Priya surprises everyone as she faces a perilous situation with self-assurance and some serious Krav Maga skills. With Bollywood films featuring strong women characters in 2014, it is good to see this characterization carry over into 2015.
With many Bollywood films creating physics-defying stunts, it is refreshing to see performances that are more realistic. French parkour expert, martial artist and stuntman Cyril Raffaelli was brought in to create the action sequences. Having directed stunts in The Transporter, District 13 and The Incredible Hulk, Raffaelli put the actors through their paces and designed some amazing action sequences that reflect skill, strategy, and even some dumb luck.
This is a serious film dealing with a serious issue. Fortunately, the film departs from standard Bollywood fare which still tends to include song and dance item numbers to highlight key moments or set the tone for the film. Instead, Baby contains one song which is short and sweet is offered from the perspective of someone unaware of the machinations of those seeking to wreak havoc in the lives of innocent civilians.
The film does feature the powerful "Bepawah", by Meet Bros Anjjan, which appears with the credits of the film. While initially seeming a bit out of sync with the nature of the film, this James-Bondesque power ballad features sequences from the movie and serves as an ode to the unsung heroes who put their lives on the line for their country.
One of the challenges facing Bollywood in the global marketplace is to meet (or exceed) filmgoer expectations presented by Hollywood films. While Indian films are creating stories and music that increasingly appeals to a worldwide market, the uninitiated filmgoer still hesitates to invest their time and money in a Bollywood film. Baby manages to present an international sensibility - and does so respectfully.
Fortunately, films like Baby and directors like Neeraj Pandey may help Hindi films appeal to a broader international audience, expanding the opportunities for Hindi films to be even more accepted in the global marketplace.
The following playlist features the trailer, character videos, and interview with the ubiquitous Anupam Kher and the song "Bepawah" as seen in the closing credits of the film.