Naam Shabana - It's kickass when the woman kicks ass
Naam Shabana and its heroine in sneakers.
By: Sonia Chopra
Monday 3 April 2017
Tapsee Pannu, Manoj Bajpayee, Prithvi Raj, Akshay Kumar
Whether it’s revenge or espionage, two topics explored in this week’s release Naam Shabana, roles for women have been few. But it’s absolutely kickass to see a woman kick ass—which is why Naam Shabana is such a refreshing watch, despite the film’s clichés and flaws.
For one, it’s cool to see a mainstream Hindi film heroine in sneakers. She also dresses like a normal person her age, in kurta and jeans with a scarf thrown in.
As the film’s title suggests, the protagonist’s name is Shabana, an ordinary girl who falls in extraordinary circumstances. When this pony-tailed girl walks crowded gullies like she owns them, it’s a sight to savour. There is simply no hesitation, lowering of glance, or simpering. She just is.
This is one of the few instances, where Taapsee Pannu playing Shabana, breathes life into a character that wouldn’t be that interesting, or even plausible otherwise. She adds that nuance of the character being madly comfortable in her skin, and of being effortlessly heroic. Shabana has nerves of steel; it can be one opponent or a group, she is as fast with her punches as she is with her mind.
The story is about Shabana who is recovering from a difficult and violent childhood that led her to the remand home for a couple of years. Now, she’s unafraid and willing to take on anyone from cops to thugs. When an event leads her to revenge mode, a mysterious phone-call makes her an offer. If they help her, she has to work for them. And that’s how the story moves.
The story doesn’t move you that much— it has all the clichés, including the evil politician’s son, Russian molls, RAW agency workings and so on— but the performance hits home. It’s rare to be so invested in a story where the character is otherwise bland, but made watchable by an earnest performance.
We’ve seen many female RAW agents/badass women in our movies before, but very few are formidable both physically and mentally. They are usually shown as astute and shrewd, like Katrina Kaif’s Zoya in Ek Tha Tiger, rather than actually physically towering over the opposite side. Heck, Kareena Kapoor’s RAW agent in Agent Vinod actually sings a mujra. In Hero-Love Story of a Spy, Preity Zinta’s character is moulded to becoming a spy, but the character largely remains a love interest.
You don’t have too many female protagonists thirsting after revenge either, like Shabana. Kahaani immediately comes to mind, where Vidya Balan’s story is more emotionally intense, than physically violent. Tashan has its own story of revenge, where Kareena Kapoor’s character being the focal point. One truly badass character that comes to mind is Urmila Matondkar’s Sarika in Ek Hasina Thi who balances the scales in one of the most disturbingly brutal finales ever.
In Naam Shabana, the narrative gives the protagonist a chance to normalize the heroic tendency. There is neither an excessive focus on looks like in Ek Tha Tiger, where Katrina is made to look stunning in every frame; nor a need for making the whole thing filmy like in Agent Vinod.
In Naam Shabana, the character just is. At once normal and extraordinary; no filmy frills attached.