Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Akshay Kumar, Manoj Bajpai
Content and Inspiration Credits: Maninder Singh Rathi, Akshay Gupta
You’ve gotta be kidding me. Prequels for a Bollywood movie franchise, however unpopular, still exist. But an origin story for a movie character? That’s a first. With movies like Commando, Airlift, and Rustom; army based movies are becoming a trend nowadays. Trying to cash-in on the same success and the solid platform set by the movie Baby, Naam Shabana traces the background of a fringe character Shabana, shown in the first film. It would not be wrong to say that we’ve gotten ourselves a Desi-version of the upcoming Hollywood movie Black Widow, which illustrates the origin of Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even though Marvel and Baby franchise can’t be compared in any respect, the similarity with which the producers of Baby have tried to generate interest in their franchise using character-development is worth noting and appreciating.
First Half (The Hum-Drum-Vee)
The movie starts with the introduction of the lead character Shabana (Taapsee Pannu). An overtly aggressive, passively-violent, and expressionless girl who has a jest to prove herself in every walk of life. Shabana’s mother, a simple housewife, cares for her only child and tries her best to provide her daughter with a safe and secure household. Jai (Taher Shabbir) is one of the few friends she has and the reason she ultimately chooses a different and dangerous path in her life.
The first half, in short, is an introduction to the background of Shabana and consequently not very entertaining. The wooden and precarious acting portrayed by Taapsee Pannu fails to add any salt to the story. Except few short scenes involving Manoj Bajpai, the first half is redundant if you look at it from an entertainment and action angle for which the baby franchise is known for. Of course, for the character development of the protagonist, it is very significant. To build up the actual reason behind Shabana choosing to work for an agency which virtually erases her past and makes her invisible to everyone around her; this part of the story is quite critical. Contrary to Hollywood, Bollywood is very new to this style of film-making where prequels and sidetrack movies are used to build up interest in upcoming movies of a franchise. The inexperience on the part of producers is quite evident in this movie also. The only thing that hinders the beauty of the character development is the seemingly-forced and arduous acting shown by Taapsee for the better part of the first half.
Second Half (The Fun-Vee)
Second half essentially jumpstarts the story and makes the pace of the movie quite fast. Where the first half is slow and gradual for obvious reasons, the second half is quite the opposite of that. It is especially because of a shift of focus from Shabana to characters of Manoj Bajpai and the Agency’s Best Akshay Kumar. The transition between the two halves, in my opinion, is quite rugged around the edges and could have used some smoothening. A sudden transfer of spotlight from Shabana to other characters leaves the primary importance given to the character, hanging upside down.
Shabana, a new agent, is sent on her first quest where she has to catch an international arms dealer Mikhael who couldn’t be captured by some of the agency’s fine agents a while ago. Although it seems quite counter-productive to send a month-trained agent on such a dangerous and critical mission, the audience is expected to digest this. In fact, the funny thing is that Shabana inspite of being portrayed as the most important character for three-fourths of the movie is underhanded frequently by her seniors. Akshay Kumar and Anupam Kher, as usual, do most of the planning and leave a huge chunk of execution to Shabana as if she has come just to show her face to the antagonist. Akshay Kumar literally holds Shabana’s arm and drags her through most of the missions all the way to the end. The twists and turns are quite predictable and uneventful, but the addition of the serious but mocking character of Akshay Kumar and ever-tired Anupam Kher adds spice to the movie that lacks till then.
Change of Trends?
Inspite of identifying some loopholes in the plot and problems in the screenplay, I firmly believe that Bollywood needs more movies like this. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of bad movies. But this film is far better than the age-old musical numbers of Bollywood that have been and continue to be called the Mainstream-Cinema of India. Naam Shabana is a step in the right direction, moving the industry towards movies made on relevant social topics and strongly linked franchises. The Box-office performance of the movie has been borderline satisfactory in the first week and doesn’t even look optimistic for the coming weeks. Absence of a strong contender in the coming week might give slight chance to Naam Shabana, but the chance is slim.
Even though the idea of character development by devoting an entire movie to a single character didn’t work quite as the producers would’ve liked, atleast they thought about it. A successful movie franchise is laid on the foundation of strong and well-developed characters, which give the upcoming movies solidarity and touch with genuine human emotions. I hope the trend with this franchise atleast remains the same. I for one can’t wait for the next addition to the Baby franchise, in hopes that the trio of Manoj Bajpai, Akshay Kumar, and Taapsee Pannu may make the Bollywood more susceptible to Intellectual Cinema in the coming years.