‘Naam Shabana’ Review: Taapsee Pannu’s Film is Strictly Average

One of the best things in Baby was Taapsee Pannu’s character. Impressive in her tough cop avatar, we really wanted to see more of her and know her story. Naam Shabana is the prequel to Baby but sadly isn’t half the film that we wanted it to be.

Neeraj Pandey as the producer, screenplay and dialogue writer of the film conjures up a familiar universe. It’s us, the good guys vs them, the “desh ke dushman”. Akshay Kumar with his thin moustache and Anupam Kher with the hideous wig are all in attendance.

However, director Shivam Nair would have us believe that it is a film that belongs to the eponymous character Shabana. In terms of screen time, yes. But in spirit, the whole “woman-centric” theme is so self-conscious that one wonders what the point is.

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One hundred and fourty eight minutes long, Naam Shabana pans out like an uneventful bus ride. You know everything, from the time the bus will arrive, to the route it will take, the stops it will halt at and of course the dull end to an everyday journey.

Shabana, an angry young woman with special Kudo skills, can’t just be tough for the sake of it.

She must have a back-story, and a painful one at that. That having been provided, she is recruited by an “agency” that does desh ki seva and kills the dushman. But the reason Manoj Bajpayee gives will make you shudder, “Women are born spies!”

When Pannu is sent all the way to foreign land to interrogate a woman, she asks Akshay Kumar’s character why he couldn’t do it himself. He says, “Kya main aapko zabardasti kerta achha lagta?” For a film that claims to chart a new course on gender equality it surely knows how to preserve stereotypes!

Taapsee gets ample chance to put her martial arts training to use. It frankly is great fun to see a woman kick some serious butt and she manages to do it convincingly. However, for some reason, she is far more constricted in this film than she ever was.

Was Taapsee instructed to play her role like this, or did she get a little overwhelmed by all that was happening around her? One isn’t quite sure, but apart from a few stray fight scenes, Taapsee looked oddly uncomfortable.

At one point, right after making mincemeat of criminals, she suddenly freezes and must be rescued by Akshay Kumar, who drags her confused self out of ground zero. This makes all her “toughness” seem more robotic than organic. It’s just very odd. As is her instant parlour-curled hair right after vigorous combat. Like really?

‘Naam Shabana’ Rarely Excites

Prithviraj Sukumaran as form-changing villain Mikhail has been given a raw deal but still manages to shine through on some moments. Manoj Bajpayee as the “agency” head spends most of his time mouthing instructions to Taapsee. There isn’t much there for him but he gives us no reasons to complain either. Akshay Kumar makes his hero-like entries and brings dollops of swag along. It will make his loyalists very happy though!

With a background score that wants to take centrestage and overwhelm the proceedings on screen and our Bollywood template where we know that no matter what “hamare heroes ka baal bhi baanka nahi hoga (our heroes will come away without a scratch)”, Naam Shabana rarely excites.

We have seen it all, and sadly Shabana can break all the bones she wants but the stereotypes remain unscathed. Naam Shabana gets a very generous 2.5 QUINTS out of 5. Nothing new and strictly average!

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