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"Naam Shabana" is Nothing But an Ordinary Spy Thriller

April 3, 2017

There is a history of ruining a good film franchise if it gets a new director for its sequel or prequel. "Naam Shabana" is an addition to that history. If a good director like Neeraj Pandey who has made box office hits like "A Wednesday!", "Special 26" and "Baby", comes in a news headline for his next project, a hype is naturally generated but it is the quality of that ultimate product which decides whether it will live up to the expectations. Neeraj Pandey has decided not to give direction but produce and write screenplay for "Naam Shabana" but I think this movie, having a theme of national security similar to "Baby", fails to touch the nerve of the audience. Even if any of the three Khans gives a mediocre performance in a lead role, any ordinary movie crosses or goes close to 100 Crore mark these days just because of their complete screen presence. Akshay Kumar is the only superstar presently working in Bollywood who can give a good competition to these three Khans. "Baby" was one of big hits in his entire filmy career. Taapsee Pannu has earned a label of a class actress after delivering a stunning performance in "Pink" but if somebody thinks that she can now take the burden of carrying the legacy of Akshay Kumar starrer "Baby" on her own shoulder, I am afraid he lives in a fool's paradise. Anupam Kher and Akshay Kumar have made a good chemistry with their comedy and charm of acting together in "Special 26" and "Baby" but that is hardly seen in "Naam Shabana". Instead of making a prequel, Neeraj Pandey should have made a sequel of "Baby" with a new follow up story having Akshay Kumar in that same lead role. The early life of field agent Shabana Khan (played by Taapsee Pannu) and how she became a spy, could have been shown in a short flashback in that movie. After "Piku", Shoojit Sircar also decided not to direct but produce "Pink" but I guess “Pink” was far better production than “Naam Shabana” due to better screenplay writing and direction. I am sure Shivam Nair will come back with his best in coming years.

Shabana Khan's father was an alcoholic and like most of the hard drinkers, he also was a wife and child beater. One day, teen Shabana (teenage role of Shabana Khan is also played by Taapsee Pannu herself) couldn't tolerate any more home violence and hit his father on his head. That fatal blow got her father killed. Police arrested Shabana and she spent two years in a juvenile home after getting sentenced by the juvenile court. But Shabana came under surveillance as a potential candidate for becoming the spy of a secret service agency which is responsible for our national security. She is an angry young woman who gets agitated very easily on crowded streets. She is still studying commerce in a college and practises a special kind of martial art called Kudo. She has also won a tournament of Kudo championship. Shabana's classmate and friend Jai (played by Taher Shabbir Mithaiwala) is in love with her and one night, when they were on their way home riding on a motorcycle (both Jai and Shabana were wearing no helmets), they met with four spoiled brats who started to tease Shabana. Ignoring Jai's advice of 'It's not about guts but you need to know when to step in and when to back off', Shabana took the decision to encounter them. Jai also had to intervene for saving her but got murdered by the leader of those four scumbags. Shabana swore that she would not rest until she brings the killer to justice. But she was getting frustrated due to slow progress of the criminal investigation by police, and one day she received a call from an unknown person who asks her what if he tells her the present whereabouts of those fugitives, how she would bring them to justice. Shabana’s reply was straight and full of confidence that if she is provided with the information and other helps, she will likely to kill the murderer of Jai because she no longer has the faith in legal justice system. The unknown caller offers every possible help in pursuing her vengeance but with one condition that once it is done, in return, she would have to join the secret service agency and work as a field agent defending the national security of our nation. Shabana says yes.

The official theatrical trailer shows a tag which says 'witness the making of a spy'. So, how does a common man become a spy? Does the secret service agency really recruit civilians for spy jobs directly from the society? What are the criteria based on which they choose their possible candidates. What kind of training curriculum do they follow? Shabana Khan has an angry young mind which sometimes attracts unnecessary attention. She also has a criminal background. Her study is yet to be completed. She has lost her faith in our legal justice system and is mentally prepared to kill a guy for personal vendetta. If these kinds of qualities make her qualify to get selected for the spy job, do you really think it shows the reality as close as possible. I don't think so. The instructor, who was giving her shooting practices, happened to be a white Caucasian foreigner. Our national secret agency couldn't just find an Indian shooting instructor for training our secret agents. How weird is that? Only martial art and shooting practices seem to be quite enough for completing her training to be an operational field agent. No movie can keep you on the edge of your seat right up to the end, than a spy thriller. When somebody is making a spy thriller, it should be looked like one. Recently, Priyanka Chopra came under spotlight due to her acting in an American TV series drama thriller "Quantico". There are popular spy franchises like "James Bond" and "Jason Bourne" which were made in Hollywood. Perhaps, the director and the screenplay writer of "Naam Shabana" should have taken some inspirations and ideas from these spy franchises before making this film. All the field agent characters including Ajay Singh Rajput (played by Akshay Kumar) and Shabana Khan (played by Taapsee Pannu) seem to be physically unfit and unathletic to be looked like a professional spy. They even do not have the proper training or do not know the standard procedure for approaching an armed suspect. The lack of research before writing this weak screenplay is also one of the factors which lead this movie to a failure. If people like to call Aamir Khan a perfectionist, then there must be a reason behind it. Just take "Dangal" for an example and consider how much research, money, time and effort the producer cum actor Aamir Khan and the director Nitesh Tiwari put into their project even before taking the first shot.

Even though Taapsee Pannu has the lead role in "Naam Shabana", it doesn't seem to be a woman centric movie. During operations, Shabana Khan is unable to tackle some unforeseen tough situations and needs the help of Ajay Singh Rajput to get herself out of trouble. Ajay Singh Rajput even holds her arm (not hand) and drags her to a safe place. In one scene, Ranvir Singh (played by Manoj Bajpayee) says two interesting comments explaining Shabana Khan why the agency thinks that she is suitable for the job, 'Females are born with an extra strain in their DNA. Mardon ko gadgets ki jaroorat padti hai, auratein pre-configured aati hai' and 'Aaj kal ke jo haalat hai, us mein tumhare religion ki vajah se hamara access badhta hai aur raastei khulte hai'. He also says that 1500 possible candidates are being observed by the agency at any given time which sounds like wasting money and manpower and when it comes to do some real action in overseas locations, instead of sending experienced agents, the agency sends a fresh recruit Shabana Khan with a license to kill.

I think unlike "Baby", despite putting best efforts of going soft against Pakistan and radical Islamic terrorists, Censor Board of Pakistan has banned the screening of "Naam Shabana" in Pakistan. So, this movie has won the hearts of neither India nor Pakistan. If Hollywood wants to make a spy thriller, it has always made it from the point of view of western powers showcasing Soviet Union, China, Vietnam or North Korea as their adversaries. It is a common sense that if Bollywood wants to make a spy thriller, it needs to project Pakistan and anti Indian jihadi elements as adversaries and that will give better result in Indian box office. If handled properly by efficient hands, nationalism always works well in India.

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