It’s a rare thing in Hindi cinema that a kick ass film made with a strong leading woman saves itself from the shame of the intervention of a supposedly stronger hero who needs to come to her rescue every 20 minutes. Even if the director went out of his way since the beginning of the film to establish the woman as a no nonsense girl whose punches are more alluring than her curves; it’s a tragedy that befalls and bites into the most of our female oriented dramas. We will discuss later whether it’s at all a female oriented film or not. I was reminded of Quentin Tarantino's epic martial arts film series 'Kill Bill' with Uma Thurman in the lead. Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. The protagonists in both the films are beautiful, young and were about to turn a new leaf in life when tragedy strikes and then her vengeance is for the world to see. Its calculated, its brutal. But while Uma Thurman's Kill Bill was stylish, smart, gutsy and a convincing thriller, lack of a good script and direction made Naam Shabana into an above average, overdramatized (in the second half), half-baked film which lacks a purpose. One of the reasons is that in this multi starrer, Taapsee Pannu out performed her character leaving the rest to sound shaky.
The character Shabana, played by Taapsee, lives in Mohammed Ali road, a place well known for its non-vegetarian food in Mumbai. With no father at home ( he has a story too ) and only Ammi as her companion, Shabana learns martial arts, does not crack a smile like her young friends, has a boyfriend, and is used to making all her decisions on her own. And yes, she breaks into a fist fight with the roadside Majnus at the slightest provocation ( No in Mumbai Anti Majnu squads are not active ) . She finds it difficult to express love and she has a history to prove why. A tragedy in life forces her to take up killing as a profession, also a way to avenge her misery.
Director Shivam Nair uses the entire first half to build this solemn, brooding character whose fists knock out multiple men with ease, but as we slip into the second half, the film takes its usual turn towards stereotypes, old bollywood styled portrayal of a villain, long stories of plastic surgery changing the villain's face and Indian spies from RAW miraculously killing nation's enemy without any proof in foreign land. Michael played by Malyalam actor Prithviraj Sukumaram is good for the eyes. Sukumaran who has done close to 90 films down south looks handsome as a stylish flesh trader but his character is half baked, unreal and takes too unconvincing a turn to be believed.
No doubt, the film has a momentum which leaves no room for a loo break and will mostly keep you invested, but in many parts will make you laugh at its sheer escapism.
One would think that It’s an Akshay Kumar film but hey, Akshay is here only in an extended cameo, he comes in for some necessary reminder that a film is incomplete without a hero. Why else would he suddenly jump into an action scene where Shabana has already done most of the talking. Director fails to edge out Akshay and Anupam Kher's characters unlike in Baby where everything had fallen into place.
Manoj bajpayee replicates the role of Anupam Kher in ‘AWednesday’ where he keeps an eye on the whole of the city through his plasma screens. In a scene he tells Shabana about the real reason to take her in his team ,"Women are born spies. They are born with an extra strand in the DNA". When he said that, women sitting next to me laughed. Such dialogues in a seemingly serious film often took away a bit of its seriousness.
I would like to applaud the scene where Shabana mercilessly kills a man in cold blood who had ruined a beautiful plan of her life. The half shut, blood shot eyes and a calm face just before the act sent a chill down my spine. This scene was immediately followed by Ajay Singh Rajput( Akshay Kumar) breaking into the room in his introductory scene to rescue her. While 'rescue' she did not need at all.
The expectations from the film were high after its prequel Baby was well appreciated by both critics and box office. This one disappoints in its coherence and consistency. The speed breakers though are made up by a fast pace on the edit and a very sharp and impacting background score which sounded too loud in parts. A little bit of more logic than style would have made it a worthy prequel though. Watch it for its first half that is fresh, breaks stereotypes and smells of unpredictability each second. The rest is all average or below.