He has directed action thrillers before and today, he is twenty four hours away from his first big action spy adventure movie Agent Vinod. But when you meet Sriram Raghavan you see that he doesn’t scream and shout about it. A relentlessly unassuming man, he is keen, in his rare plainspoken Indian way. In person, he looks quite tough, combining a lean physique with his buzz-cut talks on action scenes and more, but he is instantly friendly, if maddeningly modest about his achievements. So what must’ve taken one of India’s finest directors to re-invent an almost dormant ‘spy’ genre? Here’s what it took – a meagre conversation about movies Sriram Raghavan and Saif Ali Khan loved as kids. Agent Vinod‘s name first came up in that tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte. I met the visionary director at the Illuminati office to know what suspense movies inspired him as a kid, what went behind making the character called Agent Vinod, how many Bonds make up one Vinod, the protagonist’s entry scene and why this movie isn’t about humiliating Pakistan. Sriram Raghavan takes over in this two part exclusive feature. Presenting you Part 1 ‘Director’s Cut’.
“I loved Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and all suspense thrillers and spy movies as a kid”
As a kid, I was highly influenced by suspense thrillers and spy movies. Johnny Mera Naam, The Train, Aankhen, Jewel Thief, Teesri Manzil, Ittefaq and Agent Vinod. I used to see some foreign films. I remember Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. I loved it. Not that I don’t see other movies with different genre. I love Rajshri’s Dosti as much as I love Agent Vinod. It’s got terrific music. But I’d say I will watch Dosti only once and Agent Vinod four times (laughs).
“We had three options to choose from – Is this a story of a normal man who wants to become a spy or an innocent person who gets sucked in the spy web or a spy in the middle of one of his many assignments?”
Honestly, we started with the title of the movie, then we decided that there is going to be a character called Vinod who is today’s spy. But then we had many options to choose from. Then we asked ourselves the questions – Should this be a story of how a man became a spy? Or shall it be a story of a spy who has been doing it for a last few years but you catch him in one of his cases? Or should it be of an innocent person who is drawn into becoming a spy? We took a spy who is at work and we haven’t established his past and then of course, we were solving the question – What kind of a character he is?
“There is a bit of all the Bond’s characteristics in Vinod but yet we had to keep it Indian”
There is a bit of a Bond in Vinod. When you say Bond, there are so many of them. Daniel Craig was a more realistic kind. Sean Connery too was realistic. Then came Roger Moore who had his tongue and cheek humour. It was a fun zone that Pierce Brosnan took further. Then there is Bourne too. Then there were the Harrison Ford character trait too. Then there is a character like Smiley portrayed by Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a bit quieter one. We had to take into account all these different character traits and yet make it Indian. I tried my best to make it genuinely Indian.
“Saif does all the things that a Bond hero would do, but in his own way, and in a different method.”
In all Bond movies, there is an opening sequence, then there is a title sequence and then the story starts. So we had two or three options of how to introduce our hero. Initially we had a scene to be shot in Bangkok with lot of neon lighting. It was an action scene where he had to take something from the safe and escape from there. That’s when we see the titles of AGENT VINOD forming in neon lights. That’s the first thought we had that came from Sridhar Raghavan. Saif loved it too. But I wanted to do something bizarre, completely opposite of what we first thought of. So when you see the hero, you don’t feel like he is Agent Vinod. I won’t spoil it for you today but I will tell you that Saif does all the things that a Bond hero would do, but in his own way, and in a different method.
“We both spoke about the movies we both liked as kids. That’s when Agent Vinod came up. Saif loved the original. Agent Vinod was born from that thought”
Agent Vinod was Saif Ali Khan’s brain child. We both spoke about the movies we both liked as kids. That’s when Agent Vinod came up. Saif loved the original Agent Vinod. We both enjoyed talking about it and came to a conclusion that there were no ‘spy’ movies being made in Bollywood. There are gangster films, thrillers, cop movies but not a ‘spy’ genre. Agent Vinod was born from that thought.
“We’ve only shown what you read in the papers and see on television about Pakistan”
While writing the movie, Saif, I and my co-writer always believed that we never wanted to make Agent Vinod anti-Pakistan. We were very clear to make it in such a way that all Pakistanis enjoy watching. But if I make a spy movie, there had to be Pakistan involved. It’s a given. Likewise if a spy movie was made in Pakistan, India would’ve been involved. But yes, there is ISI reference in the movie. Kareena Kapoor plays a Pakistani girl in the movie. But largely, we’ve only shown what you read in the papers and see on television about Pakistan. So nothing is shown in a bad light but it is realistic. I hope the viewer sees it and judges for himself.
Watch this space for Part 2 of interview with Sriram Raghavan