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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Naam Shabana
Director: Shivam Nair
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Prithviraj and others
Rating: * * ½

It was a good idea—making a prequel to 'Baby', and putting the spotlight on the gutsy Shabana Khan, who had a small role in it. What made a young Muslim girl join a shadowy anti-terrorist cell? And how does she cope in the world of big boys and their relentless violence? The audience would like to know.

But just having Taapsee Pannu, the current flavour of the season (after 'Pink') star in it, doesn’t necessarily make 'Naam Shabana' a film with a female worldview.

The first half of the film is about Shabana, the young woman with a troubled past and facing personal tragedy, being lured into the secret unit (women are natural spies, apparently!), initiated into this dark world and trained. The man who runs the agency is played by Manoj Bajpayee, with a suitably wry expression.

The mission she is sent on is to nab the global drug dealer and arms kingpin (Prithviraj Sukumaran)—why send a rookie when the villain has already killed five undercover agents? That’s just one of the many questions that remain hanging, while Shabana kicks, chops and shoots her way through, but Ajay (Akshay Kumar) turns up to do the heavy lifting, because, as he says, “I have come from so far, let me do some work.” Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa, Zakir Hussain and Madhurima Tuli also reprise their roles from 'Baby', and will, perhaps, be part of future spin-offs in what has the potential to become a successful franchise.

'Naam Shabana' has some slick action sequences and does the mandatory globe-trotting that every espionage film is required to do.

But there’s something paint-by-numbers about it, that never raises it above ‘timepass’ level; and why let songs slow down the pace? Why the bloated run time for a genre that needs to lean and mean so that audiences don’t get a chance to blink or ask questions?

She has suffered and has reason to be angry, so Pannu is made to play Shabana with steely grimness. However, there is a certain determination and grace with which has done the many action scenes in the film.

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