Her name is Shabana. But people don’t call her Shabbo ‘pyaar se’. She doesn’t seem to have a ‘pet’ name; she is stern and means business. What’s not to like about a film which toplines a young woman capable of kicking serious butt? Given producer and writer Neeraj Pandey’s record of ratcheting up the patriotic quotient in his films, it comes as no surprise that ‘Naam Shabana’s leading lady does it for her country.
What does come as a surprise, however, is just how much of a drag the film is. Except for a few stray sequences in which the limber Pannu faces up to the bad guys, and the ones in which co-star Akshay moves in to demonstrate how the big boys do it, there is nothing either novel or interesting about the film. A tiny exchange about Shabana’s ‘religion’, which could have become meaningful and sharp, is dulled by dull repartee.
Pannu plays Shabana, a girl with a dark past, who lives with her mother, and who is hand-picked to join a deep-cover intelligence group that appears to have sweeping powers to target — and eliminate ( you have only three days!, let’s take him out today!) enemies of the state.
Many of the characters are familiar to us from Pandey’s Baby (2015) including Pannu’s Shabana; Naam Shabana gives us her backstory which involves a troubled childhood and a doomed relationship. Pannu left an impression in Baby. Here, she gets a role many leading ladies would kill for, and she is believable when she is throwing punches, and getting punched in turn, but right through she is strangely held in, and strictly one-note. Did she get stymied by the demands of her part, or was she instructed to keep her mien closed, leaving her much too stiff?
The other problem is the plot. Or, more precisely, the lack of it. There’s a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing, from cool European cities to tropical desi locations, as the gang of spies, headed by Manoj Bajpayee’s chief, goes after a global arms kingpin who is also involved in trafficking and drugs. But you are left looking for a pulsing storyline in a film which is meant to focus upon the smarts of its leading lady, which, instead, gives us such unintentionally hilarious lines as: ‘women are born spies’. Or words to that effect.
You would think that the dishy Prithviraj Sukumaran’s appearance as the chief villain, togged out in sharp suits, diamond-studded ear, and a gaggle of gun-toting henchmen, would rev up things. But even that reliably excellent actor gets lost in this all-over-the-place, predictable flick.
The final nail is the incessant, annoying background music. It blares non-stop and makes this film even longer than it is. Naam Shabana leaves you with a niggling question: why create a heroine in the action hero mode, with both mind and heart, and then give her a big bro to ‘help’ her out? This results in second-guessing your biggest asset, wondering if she is a liability.
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