Naam Shabana review: Average action flick with a strong female protagonist

Release Date: 31 Mar 2017 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 28min

Cinestaan Rating

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Keyur Seta

Riddled with loopholes, even the extended cameo by Akshay Kumar doesn't take the film too far.

Shivam Nair’s Naam Shabana tells the back story of one of the characters from Neeraj Pandey’s acclaimed Baby (2015). The film has been promoted as India’s first spin-off and a rare prequel. What it actually turns out to be is just a regular action flick. The film is also letdown by a tactic that questions the idea of making an action film with a female protagonist.

Shabana Khan (Taapsee Pannu) played a part in Ajay Singh Rajput’s (Akshay Kumar) mission in Baby (2015). Naam Shabana goes back in time to narrate her entry and early days in RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). Shabana had a troubled childhood. Her father would physically and mentally assault his wife. When it becomes too much, Shabana deals with the situation and lands in a remand home.

During her college days, she becomes a Kudo champion. Her classmate, Jai (Taher Shabbir) falls for her, although she is not sure if she loves him. But soon enough, she too starts developing feelings for him. Just then, tragedy strikes her. She gets a chance to make amends by joining the RAW as a secret agent. A senior RAW officer (Manoj Bajpayee) takes her test and she passes with flying colours. The biggest thorn in the path for RAW is Mikhail (Prithviraj Sukumaran), one of the most wanted criminals in the world. 

Naam Shabana has a runtime of 148 minutes. But surprisingly, you don’t feel it's too long. The events and sequences are so neatly joined in the fast screenplay that you seldom feel like looking at the watch (except during the songs). This perhaps is the biggest plus point of the film. Some of the stunts are impressive too.

The film is loaded with loopholes, though. This doesn’t affect you in the first half since the character of Shabana and the story is nicely developed. Also, there are bound to be errors in out-and-out thrillers. But it becomes too much in the second half.

Take this for instance — one of the most wanted criminals in the world doesn’t have a single security guard, leave alone a security team, to guard his sprawling mansion. The post-interval portion also makes the film appear like just another action flick with regular clichés. For example, a captive using the washroom excuse to flee. 

But what affects the film the most is the idea of Akshay Kumar bailing out Pannu whenever she is in trouble. This defeats the very purpose of having a female protagonist in an action film as she always requires a ‘hero’ to save her. It is also weird to see Kumar literally dragging her on two occasions. This either makes her look like a criminal or a weak individual. 

Sudhir Palsane has shown his skills as the cinematographer, although the number of aerial shots could have been less. His work was impressive in his last few films too — Baby, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) [both with Neeraj Pandey] and Marathi film Katyar Kaljat Ghusli (2015).

The music is a disappointment, though. This is also yet another album that unsuccessfully remixes an iconic song — ‘Zuby Zuby Zuby’ from Dance Dance (1987). The background score is loud and seems forced. It looks to add thrills into a scene where there are none.

The performances aren’t great either. Pannu is certainly impressive as the angry action lady. She has managed the fight sequences well. But she is made to act wooden on a few occasions in order to make her look serious and emotionless. Kumar doesn’t appear interested in his extended cameo. Around 90% of the time Bajpayee is speaking into the phone, leaving him little scope to perform.

As the baddy, Prithviraj Sukumaran gives a good performance. Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa and Taher Shabbir do an average job. 

Overall, Naam Shabana had the potential of becoming a worthy prequel to Baby. But it turns out to be just another run-of-the-mill action flick. 

Reviewed by Keyur Seta