Will Naam Shabana start a new spin-off trend in Hindi cinema? 

With Naam Shabana, Hindi cinema is turning towards a new narrative structure - the spinoff. Immensely popular overseas, spin-offs have not yet been attempted in Indian cinema. As Shivam Nair and Neeraj Pandey experiment with Naam Shabana, we look at the unique phenomenon.

Shriram Iyengar

In September last year, DC, the giant comic and entertainment corporation announced the launch of the blockbuster Justice League movie. It was a film that took a long time coming, and marked the beginning of what is now known as the DC Universe. A spin-off is anything that is a by-product of a larger project. In the cinematic universe, these by-products carry heavy commercial gains, like Superman, Batman, or in India, Naam Shabana. 

The announcement of Shivam Nair and Neeraj Pandey's Naam Shabana was a surprising turn of events in many ways. The film is already being touted as the first spin-off in Indian cinema. While it is natural for producers to sometimes go overboard in announcing their films, Naam Shabana does possess some unique traits that make it a true blue spin-off. 

Taapsee Pannu in Naam Shabana (2017)

To start with, the film revolves around the character of Shabana, from Neeraj Pandey-directed Baby (2015). While Pandey refused to tag the film as a spin-off, there is no doubt of its origins. While there were other characters, like Anupam Kher's Shukla, that proved to be quite popular, the choice of Shabana as the first spin-off seems rather cautious. However, often it is such characters that evoke curiousity of fans. After the release of Vidya Balan's Kahaani (2012), Saswata Chatterjee found himself a particularly famous man for his cameo appearance as the insurance selling assassin, Bob Biswas. 

Taapsee Pannu does have some things going for her. The actress has transformed into a credible name after the success of Pink (2015). There has also been a recent spurt of feminist films, or as the CBFC says 'lady oriented' films, some of which have proved to be commercial and critical successes. This provides some insight into the choice of Shabana as the first character to be picked for the franchise. The trailer has also portrayed Taapsee Pannu's character as a girl who finds herself opting for the job after suffering violence and injustice. 

The trailer of the film also carries a dark Jason Bourne style that might indicate the direction of the franchise. If it does expand into multiple films, it would become necessary for the producers to follow a set template. The presence of all the crucial characters from Manoj Bajpayee's recruiter to Danny Denzongpa's officer, adds to the possibility of expansions. However, director Shivam Nair and producer Pandey seem suspect of calling the film a 'spin-off'. Pandey said, "Nobody is going to go and see Naam Shabana because of fancy words… Audiences make up their minds with the trailer, the cast, and how it looks, and the product has to fall in line as a good film." While these statements might just be the words of a cautious producer, it also indicates the prospect a spin-off offers to a studio. There are already reports that two of the most popular characters from Pandey's films, Anupam Kher's Shukla, Akshay Kumar's Ajay Singh Rajput are being looked at for further films. 

Anupam Kher as Om Prakash Shukla in Baby (2015)

Neither is Naam Shabana set to be a flash in the pan. One of the biggest blockbusters of Indian cinema, Baahubali has already begun tapping into the popularity of its characters through comic book spin-offs. Writer Anand Neelkantan has been approached to pen a book on the age before Baahubali takes place. There has also been a graphic novel, Baahubali: The Lost Legends, that dives into the back story of the two main characters. However, the scale and diversity of Baahubali's universe allows for such possibilities. 

The scale and diversity of a film's universe are two major factors for spin-offs. In the USA, television series are the most likely originators of such products. The birth of Frasier from the many patrons of the bar in Cheers or Joey from the epic series, Friends, in the early 2000s paved the way for the Marvel multiverse that now dominates television. To be fair, Hindi cinema has been enamoured by sequels for a while. From Rajkumar Hirani's Munnabhai series to Farhan Akhtar's revamp of Don, the industry has constantly sought new narrative mediums. It was the sequels that actually gave rise to the 'franchise' empires, the most successful and prominent being Rohit Shetty's Golmaal series and Yash Raj Films' Dhoom movies. However, what sequels have in terms of memorability, they lack in diversity. Even Munnabhai is stuck after 2 extremely popular films. However, by past records, Indian cinema tends to follow a pattern based on the popular culture. With multiverses exploding all around the internet, Hollywood, and home television, perhaps it is time for Indian cinema to follow suit.