Banners: Friday Filmworks, Cape Of Good Films
Producers: Aruna Bhatia, Sheetal Batia, Neera Pandey
Director: Shivam Nair
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Manoj Bajpayee, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Taher Shabbir, Virendra Saxena, Manav Vij, Akshay Kumar (s.a), Danny Denzongpa (s.a), Murali Sharma (s.a), Elli Avram (s.a), Anupam Kher (s.a)
Writer: Neeraj Pandey
Music: Rochak Kohli, Meet Bros
In an industry where sequels have become sworn winners at the box office, we have Naam Shabana hitting the screen, a prequel to Neeraj Pandey’s Baby. The makers could easily have taken Kumar’s character and woven a background story around it. Instead, they chose to bring to the big screen Taapsee Pannu’s role titled Shabana.
Pannu, who has previously won over the trade and the audience with her spectacular act in Pink, brings out the right nuances of emotion to her part in this film as well. The film impresses with its Baby cast reuniting and supporting the narrative, as well as Kumar’s suave act. But the film has its flaws as well, and with a runtime of 148 minutes, it’s not a smooth ride, for sure.
Any film works in totality. You can’t have a couple of beautifully written and executed scenes in each half and expect the audience to enjoy the movie. What harms this project is the writing and editing. This is especially disappointing as the film has Neeraj Pandey’s name attached to it.
We have seen many spy films which equate spies with superheroes. What Naam Shabana showcases is that, whether a spy or a RAW agent, heroes are not born heroes but are made heroes by their circumstances. As the trailers suggested, the film follows Shabana’s journey of becoming a spy. The concept is interesting but it doesn’t quite turn out that way on the big screen.
The film starts in Austria, where two Indian secret agents are murdered. Next, we are introduced to a no-nonsense woman of a few words, Shabana Khan (Taapsee Pannu), who lives with her mother in Mumbai. Her classmate Jai (Taher Shabbir Mithaiwala), who is also in love with her, asks her out on his birthday. One fateful night, after confessing her love for him, Shabana also reveals her disturbed past where she was jailed by the juvenile court for killing her alcoholic and abusive father. Shabana becomes a victim of eve-teasing and Jai gets killed in the bargain. After knowing that the police are deliberately delaying the case to protect Jai’s killers, a frustrated Shabana gets some unsolicited help from Ranveer (Manoj Bajpayee), who promises to help her but on one condition – that she join his team.
Shabana becomes part of a team of RAW agents and her mission is to kill Tony, aka Michael (Prithviraj Sukumaran), the undisputed king of nefarious activities like arms supply, drugs and the flesh trade. It is here that Shabana meets Ajay Singh Rajput (Akshay Kumar) and Om Prakash Shukla (Anupam Kher), and they help her in the mission. How her story unfolds takes the film forward.
As mentioned earlier, directorially, Shivam Nair holds the narrative well and the story is engaging but the length of the film is a dampener. The script is not only appealing, it’s smart but its lethargic pace works against the film. The dialogue is to the point and includes some good one-liners.
Editing by Praveen Kathikuloth is not up to the mark though the transition between scenes is smooth. The pace in the first half falls but soon picks up post-interval. Each scene lasts much longer than it should and the proceedings are slow. Cinematography by Sudheer Palsane is good and he has done justice to the theme of the film. The USP of the film is the performances by one and all.
Kudos to Taapsee Pannu for emerging as a winner. Pannu not only impresses with her acting skills but also with her commitment to the character. From action to emoting, the young actress has done a brilliant job. Manoj Bajpayee is exceptional in his part. Prithviraj Sukumaran does justice to his role. Taher Shabbir does well. Virendra Saxena plays his part with panache. Manav Vij plays his part exceptionally well. Elli Avram is decent in her act.
The original Baby cast members marvellously support the narrative with their presence. Yet again, Akshay Kumar gets into the skin of his character beautifully and shines throughout. Danny Denzongpa is a delight to watch and is spectacular. Murali Sharma plays his part fabulously. Anupam Kher is outstanding. The rest of the cast performs well.