Truth be told, I was really looking forward to Naam Shabana. One of my favourite moments in Baby was Taapsee Pannu annihilating a baddie in a hotel room. Her no-nonsense, grim-faced agent made a big impression. Naam Shabana is the prequel to that film – it tells us why Shabana became an agent.
I thought it was very cool that director-producer Neeraj Pandey was creating a franchise around this special task force – a stealth operation team that looks after national security and exists in the shadows. The main characters from the first film make an appearance in Naam Shabana – including Akshay Kumar as the key operative Ajay Singh Rajput. A tough, skilled woman. A few good men. This could have been fun.
Sadly director Shivam Nair, working from a script by Neeraj, botches it big time. Naam Shabana is convoluted, illogical and despite all the twists and turns, just flat out tedious. The two halves of the film seem entirely disconnected – so the first is about Shabana and her induction into the task force. Here she is a grim avenging angel. The second is all about a global arms dealer, who we are told, has 75 percent of the market share. Why would any security agency send a newbie recruit to chase this hulking, world-famous criminal – I have no idea.
But in films like this, I'm willing to sacrifice logic for excitement. If the director keeps the adrenalin going, who cares about plausibility? But Nair directs with a leaden hand. Everyone wears a singular determined expression. We get the clichéd training montage as Shabana becomes a woman of steel. The attempts to create a sense of urgency and intrigue are undermined by the lack of coherence. And eventually we end up with Akshay Kumar having a bubble bath in Kuala Lumpur. He's a big man. It's a small tub. His casually cool, killer but also a player expression makes this scene an instant unintentional comedy classic.
Manoj Bajpayee gets to stand in front of television screens and bark orders. Anupam Kher also saunters in. These are all strong actors but none make any impression.
Taapsee is also a fine actor. She fits the part of the fierce agent. But there is just too much working against her and she can't salvage this limp film. For me, the final nail was the background score by Sanjoy Chowdhury. It was so loud and relentless that I felt physically battered by the time the end credits rolled. Note to directors – you can't cover lazy writing with thundering music.