At the end of Shivam Nair’s Naam Shabaana, when the credits start to roll, the first name which appears is that of Akshay Kumar; the star who is in the film for barely 15 minutes. And that really is how feminist Bollywood can get, even in a film that has a woman playing the titular role. However, Naam Shabaana cannot be discredited altogether for this misstep. It has a well-conceived lead, Shabaana Khan, played by a very sincere Taapsee Pannu who holds the fort throughout the film. Those who have watched Baby, the film from which Naam Shabaana stems, should be familiar with this young intelligence officer, bright as a button and swift as a cheetah. Shabaana’s life before the secret agency contacts her, is the highlight of the film, which otherwise, is an average thriller with loopholes aplenty.
The film introduces Shabaana as an everyday middle-class girl, clad in a cotton salwar with dupatta wrapped around her neck, shopping grocery from street-side vendors. However, this first impression is quickly proven wrong when Shabaana gives it back to a passerby who carelessly pushes her about, and tosses an insincere ‘sorry’. The mystery around her thickens when you see that nothing really arouses her – not even her gang of happy friends at college, or winning a match of Kudo.
Taapsee, who proved her acting prowess in Pink last year, does something similar here. She retains the sternness that worked wonderfully in Pink. There is a brief scene where she lets her guard down, and narrates her past to Jai, a sweet boy who has a deep crush on her. Taapsee brings out the vulnerable side of Shabaana beautifully. That sequence where you see why this girl is the way she is, is effective and convincing. It brings you closer to Shabaana, which makes it easier to root for her in the thrilling operation that ensues.
The haste with which the film dismantles this vulnerable, romantic side of Shabaana is one of its weakest points. It’s eager to get back to the glum-faced Shabaana, with whose help the government agency would eliminate one of its most fatal fugitives.
Prithviraj Sukumaran, the south Indian superstar, plays Michael, an international criminal with great ability to masquerade and escape law. The actor looks the part, but his portrayal of the criminal often slips into an unintentionally funny theatrical performance. In the part where Shabaana confronts him, he does something that is reminiscent of his recent Malayalam blockbuster, Ezra. He displays a Hulk-like fury.
The agency and its members are clinical, smart and in business all the time. However, this image takes a hit in a scene where a criminal slips away from them using the archaic technique employed by primary school children to escape a difficult question posed in classroom – he says he wants to pee.
This is why it’s important for everyone – civilians as well as civil servants – to watch some of our blockbuster potboilers once in a while.
Akshay Kumar’s involvement in the film is similar to that of George Clooney in Gravity. Especially during the scene where he appears miraculously in the balcony of a room when Shabaana is desperately in need of some help. He is a demigod who helps the woman stay afloat. And afterwards, he holds her by her arm and guides her through the alleys to safety. Kumar adds so much credence to the film, and thus, he, subtly steals the limelight from Taapsee in every scene that he appears. What if the role was played by a woman actress, like, say, Tabu? It might have stilled worked out finely for the film, but the makers take no risk.
Naam Shabaana, in spite of its flaws, is a film to reckon with. There are moments like the one where Shabaana sneaks out of her house past midnight, careful not to wake her sleeping mom. You see that the woman is lying awake, fully aware of this secretive business of her daughter. The calmness with which she accepts and trusts Shabaana is moving. In a few scenes, the film portrays the mom-daughter relationship beautifully.
There is another instance where a senior officer leaves Shabaana in a room with a bunch of strong guys, asking her to tackle them in three minutes. There is no hint of doubt on his face. Similarly, the film doesn’t make Shabaana dress up, shake a leg or seduce the villain, like one of those popular James Bond films. It rightly romanticises Shabaana’s raw talents – her intelligence, athletic abilities and resilience. This sensitive and credible portrayal of the female protagonist makes the film a worthy addition to the Baby franchise.
The Naam Shabaana review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.