Naam Shabana: girl interrupted

A scene from the movie.  

Naam Shabana—a spin-off of sorts of the 2015 spy thriller, Baby—is like two distinct films held together at the interval. The first half takes us back to the traumatic life of one of the agents—Shabana Khan (Taapsee Punnu)—and her initiation into the Indian undercover counter-intelligence unit. The second half is about her first, crucial mission to nab a global arms kingpin (what an inexcusable waste of Prithviraj) which eventually turns out to be utterly childish and laughable, fashioned like a B grade Hollywood thriller.

So you start off with a woman wronged. Shabana comes with the baggage of an alcoholic, abusive father and a dark past spent in a juvenile remand home. A spell of happiness and love is cruelly cut short post which is when she begins wreaking vengeance like a zakhmi aurat.

The film feels like an infinitely long drawn and highly predictable affair in which Pannu does her routine mechanically—with a no make-up look, some brusque talk and several mixed martial arts moves. Apart from crying, Pannu flits from a blank face to an earnest glare, from a glance of impassive concentration to total bewilderment.

Naam Shabana
  • Director: Shivam Nair
  • Starring: Taapsee Punnu, Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpai, Anupam Kher, Prithviraj
  • Run time: 148 minutes

In the name of slickness there are countless slow motion sequences and bird's-eye view shots of the cities—be it Vienna, Mumbai or Kuala Lumpur. There are the familiar contrivances of the thrillers of yore—hidden dens, unidentifiable moles and surveillance systems—that have a dated feel. And yes there are the mandatory fights and chases, violence and bloodshed. But nothing manages to prevent the film from being dull and dreary.

There’s also some strange politics playing on the sidelines. A conversation on Shabana’s religion (Islam) still has me scratching my head in confusion. The agency’s head recruiter and planner Manoj Bajpayee tells Shabana that her religion is a perk, that in contemporary times being a Muslim gives better access, opens many closed doors. How? The incredulous look refuses to leave my face. Did I misconstrue something here?

The film might appear radical enough to show a woman fight her way past the men but at the heart of things rests a very male, big boy world-view. There are locker room jokes about a drunk boyfriend being a liability and a drunk girlfriend an asset, about women being preconfigured as spies. There’s something superior about how fellow agent Ajay (Akshay Kumar) sends Shabana off to investigate a woman hostage asking rhetorically and haughtily: “Main aapko zabardasti karte hue achcha lagta hoon (Would I look good forcing my way)?” Her testing and training by Bajpayee seems just as patronising as the hand-holding in the moments of crises (there are quite a few) by Kumar. The hero has to take charge eventually. No wonder then, the shot of Kumar holding Pannu’s hand, dragging her away to safety, made me cringe.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 11:56:46 AM |

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