Film: Naam Shabana
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Danny Denzongpa
Director: Shivam Nair
A woman centric espionage actioner, this film makes you climb all the way up the wrong tree before coming to the point it’s trying to make- i.e. giving Akshay Kumar another shot at women’s empowerment show-baazi. Though you can’t call dragging a woman through long winding corridors (and twice over at that) empowerment can you? A cowering Shabana accidentally kills her father in an effort to protect her hapless brow-beaten mother and pays the price by being sent to juvenile detention for 2 years.
Once out, she joins college and regains her self esteem by becoming proficient in self defence. Unfortunately the self defence tactics don’t come good when she is surrounded by rich, spoilt, politically connected drunken louts who set out to defile her person. Shabana who had just found love, loses it in the melee that ensues. Just when she realizes that justice is not forthcoming, she gets an offer from this shadowy agency. A voice on the phone (Manoj Bajpayee), lures her into espionage work by promising revenge. Once the revenge is wreaked, the film turns on its head and Shabana is sent on a special mission abroad to eliminate Mikhail the much wanted trans-border arms supplier. And for that, the filmmaker insists on her seeking the original Baby a.k.a Akshay Kumar’s help.
The pre-interval portions work beautifully with Tapsee Pannu going through the gamut as a traumatized young girl, involuntary murderer, feisty fighter, helpless victim and persevering justice seeker. The part when the shadowy agency makes its presence felt doesn’t come through well enough though. Can’t imagine why, an agency used to international espionage work, would be seeking random pickings from the gullies of Mumbai especially when she has no distinctive skill to justify it. And the ridiculous excuse that women have a sixth sense that makes them more lethal without gadgets is laughable really. It’s a silly play – one that has little rationale and even less intelligence behind it.
Supposedly a prequel to ‘Baby’, the post-interval half, takes a turn for the worst (i.e. crummy unjustifiable espionage action) and appears to be a patch-up of leftover sequences from the editing table of ‘Baby’. In fact the first part of this film works well as a tightly held, beautifully paced, high tension revenge drama; it’s the second half that plays spoil sport here. The presence of Anupam Kher, Danny and Akshay Kumar weighs down the narrative, frittering away intensity and purchase in the stereotypical effort to pack in obligatory star power. ‘Naam Shabana’ in fact would have been a lost cause if not for Tapsee Pannu’s bravura turn as a hard-hitting female spy punching way above her class!