2015’s Baby wasn’t a huge hit, but it earned some praise from the critics and went on to do sizable business. And a cameo role played by Taapsee Pannu in that movie was appreciated by everyone for finally giving us a badass woman character. But it still came as a surprise when the makers decided to do a prequel/spinoff based on the origin of that character. Will Naam Shabana be able to deliver a kick-ass action movie whilst not losing any strand of believability like Baby?
Story: Shabana Khan (Taapsee) lives with her mother and is in college. She has a suitor called Jai, who is her classmate. After numerous attempts by him to pursue her, Shabana finally reciprocates his feelings of affection but it ends in a tragedy. We also discover that she had been to juvenile remand after an incident with her abusive alcoholic father. This is her origin before she joined Baby, the secret indian intelligence unit.
Screenplay and Direction: Neeraj Pandey, who directed Baby has written the screenplay of this spinoff but the mark is completely missed with this movie. The character of a female spy was an interesting choice thematically but it loses its value when that sole female character is undermined by other male characters and to justify the appearance of Akshay Kumar in a cameo, the lead character has to be ‘literally’ handheld and shown the tropes. The character of the lead villain is also painfully cliched and underutilised. Naam Shabana doesn’t work because the character of Shabana is like Hulk. They work best in cameo roles than in full fledged movies bearing the title name. Also, the pacing of Naam Shabana is way off. For a spinoff it has no business being 2.5 hours long.
Miscellaneous: Naam Shabana has been given the typical Indian spy action thriller look with international locations and set-pieces and drone shots which make the film appear bigger in scale than it really is. So technically, there’s not much that Naam Shabana gets wrong by virtue of its genre. The action choreography is good, and the climatic fight sequence is a winner. The production design and costume design suit the nature of the movie to the tee.
Acting: Taapsee Pannu appears rigid in Naam Shabana, and that’s a surprise since she’s been in good form lately. She’s shown she can be emotive but here she doesn’t show that expressive side. She’s almost stiff in her role, but she does the action scenes well and matches up to Prithviraj Sukumaran, the baddie. Speaking of him, Prithviraj is wasted in this movie and in this role. He doesn’t have a lot to do in the film. Manoj Bajpai has the best dialogues in the film, and he’s the one who makes a mark in Naam Shabana. Maybe the next spinoff will be based on his character, who knows? Akshay Kumar’s name unfortunately appears before that of Taapsee’s in the credits even though he only has a cameo appearance. He’s good in his screentime.
Conclusion: Naam Shabana worked best as a jest of an idea, much more so than as a 2.5 hour long movie. It is filled with loopholes, and even if we ignore the loopholes, the pacing of the movie is off the mark. Things take a lot of time to settle down and needless amount of time is devoted to unnecessary storylines and characters (like that of the boyfriend). Naam Shabana cannot be recommended as a movie because it fails on its basic promise of a providing a suspenseful action thriller chronicling the origin journey of a badass Indian female spy.
- The production design and costume design
- Akshay’s cameo appearance
- Shabana didn’t need to be handheld by Akshay’s character
- The pacing is off the mark
- Taapsee is rigid in her role
- The story has quite a few loopholes