New Delhi: It's not necessarily a bad thing, you know, that Hindi cinema has redefined the genre of espionage thrillers, distilling the best of the West through the filter of Indian sensibilities. Don't we love to add our own quirk to everything? Years of trial has made us experts in diluting cultures to develop a product that is absolutely and irrevocably 'Indian'.
Chinese food served at the best restaurants, Turkish songs remodelled to fit our screenplay, vaulted ceilings, Greko-Roman architecture, Arabic clothing - we have remodelled world aesthetics to fit our affordable, middleclass lifestyle.
With two big ticket spy films, 'Agent Vinod' and 'Ek Tha Tiger' being released this year, the expectation from two of our leading actors, both playing RAW agents of the Government of India, was high.
007 vs RAW
When Saif Ali Khan and Salman Khan 'failed' to live up to the imposing standard set by the James Bond and Jason Bourne of the world, they were criticized by a disappointed audience.
But look past Agent Vinod and Ek Tha Tiger's plotholes and do not associate their protagonists with the historical baggage of world politics that secret agents have traditionally carried through the World War II and the Cold War and you will see they are modelled on a unique vision - that of a realistic India fighting an enemy within.
History of Espionage: Birth of Bond
Espionage movies have traditionally followed a pattern set by the concurrent politics and economic policies of their time. From Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much and Sabotage to the Harry Palmer series of the 60s, and the emergence of James Bond, international spies have all been about stealth and style.
Bond, of course brought a degree of suave charm to the dry character of a government agent out on a covert mission. He was all every trainee secret agent, on camera or off, aspired to be; when in reality, spy work is largely paperwork, management, budget-setting and diplomatic correctness.
Desi spies and why they're cool
Hindi cinema has flirted with the idea of a Bond-like hero since the late 60s with 'Farz', 'Spy in Rome', 'Mr Bond' and 'Suraksha'. But the stylishness of Bond was missing. Director Sriram Raghavan's lovingly crafted hero - Vinod - compensated for much of that style. He waltzed across the world following leads, lied effortlessly, withstood torture and event danced at night clubs. But in all of this, he somehow never lost the quality that sets us apart as an Indian - an earthy charm and third world sensibilities.
As a thriller set against the backdrop of shifting economic power play, Agent Vinod's work was cut out. He exposed deeply rooted corruption in the system.
An agent who walks to work
Agent Tiger of Kabir Khan's Ek Tha Tiger is a beefy man in his late 30s who lives in a government quarter across a jogger's park. No fancy 25th storey apartment with a lift inside the bedroom for this Indian spy. His milk is delivered by the local milkman and he walks to work. He doesn't have a Bondmobile, hell, he doesn't even own a Bajaj scooter. The whiskey he drinks is Indian, not shaken or stirred.
His expenses are minimal and his savings are deposited in an account earning interest. Just like yours or mine. In his formal shirts and cotton trousers, he could've easily been mistaken for an accountant or a middle level teacher at a Kendriya Vidyalaya. He's truly the Indian secret agent. Did I say secret? Excuse me.
He's the world's clumsiest spy. Agent Tiger stops a train with his jacket, bashes intruders in his house, beats up 15 thugs singlehandedly, chasing them across a crowded Iraq market. But none of this matter. Indians love him. Had he moved in the shadows, without a single chance to take off his clothes to show his magnificent body, the audience would have grumbled their way home.
You see, their secret agent is also their 'bhai'.
So yes, our Indian spies aren't half as bad as they are made out to be. They're loyal to their work, boisterous in outlook, colourful in countenance, regional in their beliefs, modest in their expenses and wholesomely Indian in their appeal.