With Naam Shabana, director Neeraj Pandey passes the baton to Shivam Nair for the spinoff of his earlier flick Baby. While Neeraj has written the story, he hasn’t directed the film. Does that mean bad news? Sadly it does.
Naam Shabana, touted to be India’s first spinoff, first story of the making of a spy, and one among several movies headlined by heroines, does not quite live up to the sky-high expectations.
Unfortunately, it is not just the direction that falters. Neeraj’s screenplay isn’t as taut as his previous outings either. It lacks the depth of A Wednesday, Baby and Special 26. Unlike his previous stints, even the most important operations, thrilling escapades and edge-of-the-seat suspense sequences are predictable.
Neeraj seems to be toying between two genres here: revenge and a spy thriller. While the revenge part is meted out in typical Bollywood style, he resorts to his own style when handling the thriller.
In fact, the first half of Naam Shabana could actually be a separate revenge saga. It has all the ingredients of the Bollywood masala—a tragedy, a dark past, momentary happiness and the sudden occurrence of yet another tragic incident. Only, the parts that are supposed to establish a connection between the audience and the characters are loosely written and over dramatically portrayed onscreen.
Naam Shabana is the story of Shabana, her journey from being an aggressive girl who carries guilt and a dark past on her shoulders to becoming a spy for the intelligence agency of the country. It also traces her first major mission that involves eliminating an international arms dealer.
Is Naam Shabana a feminist film, or at least one that subverts patriarchy in our society? No. Akshay Kumar is the one who drags Shabana to safety quite often. And whenever he holds her, it is by the arm, not hands. In another instance Manoj aka Ranvir Singh tells Shabana, “Auratein preconfigured aati hain, they are born spies. Men need gadgets.” You know, because that’s what women do—act all suspicious (on their husbands!).
Ranvir also gives a rather irrational statement during his first meeting with Shabana. “Tumhare religion ki wajah se hume extra edge milta hai. Humein waha access milta hai jaha otherwise impossible hota humare liye,” he tells her when she asks if the agency chose her because of her religion.
Taapsee looks powerful and dangerous in the action sequences, thanks to Cyrill Raffaeli and Abbas Ali Moghul, the action directors. However, she seems to be quite uncomfortable in the scenes that require her to emote. She is very unconvincing as the woman who keeps her emotions bottled up but is extremely passionate in reality.
With her part and back story, Shabana has every right to be cynical and this could have been a very interesting addition to the narrative. However, the dialogues are too vague and turn out to be bordering on being foolishly annoying.
Akshay’s presence is short only in terms of screen time; it is a parallel lead in terms of importance and weightage of the characters. He makes a grand entry as our heroine’s saviour and continues to be that in every single frame that he appears.
Another annoying element in the film is the way it projects its feminism—it looks like Jai Mata Di version of hailing females, where you do not allow the women to take the centrestage but put her on a pedestal and call her the saviour nonetheless.
Both Akshay and Manoj keep telling people around them that she is the one who is doing everything while they continue dictating what is to be done and even keep her away from what they perceive men’s zone—like the man who “protects” his wife from every bad situation and later says, “Mata rani ki kripa se bach gae”.
“Mai aapko jabardasti karte hue achha lagta?” Akshay asks Taapsee after sending her to interrogate a woman. Is that the sole reason Shabana was chosen? Because you need women to interrogate women? Not because of her aptitude or the strong survival instinct that she flaunts?
One of the final fight sequences suddenly turns hilarious when Akshay and his opponent start a strip tease right before getting into their scuffle—almost in Salman Khan style. You know, the way he pauses and gives that “l know you are waiting for this” look to the camera.
The support cast, Danny Denzongpa, Manoj Bajpayee and Anupam Kher are good in their roles but the script does not allow them to help raise the film to a respectable level.
Our verdict: Skip the film if you want to watch it for Neeraj Pandey’s previous filmography. Naam Shabana is nothing like his other films.