When a blockbuster film releases a sequel or a prequel, there is always a high expectation that the second film will be as good - if not better - than the first one.
Unfortunately, expectations are not always met.
Not so with Naam Shabana ("The Name is Shabana"), the prequel to the 2016 film Baby. While this story is told on a much more personal level, it definitely lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor.
Naam Shabana tells the story of Shabana Khan (Taapsee Pannu), a university student who has little time for a social life. When not focusing on her studies, she trains in the local martial arts academy with the hope of going on to win state and national championships.
Her friend Jai, who often drives Shabana to and from her various activities, finally admits that he wants to turn their friendship into a relationship. Just as she opens up to Jai, a violent incident changes the trajectory of Shabana's life.
When a mysterious stranger contacts her she finds herself being pulled, willingly, into the world of espionage.
Creating a new story within the spy genre is a challenge. Even franchises like James Bond and Mission Impossible must come up with creative methods for telling the secret agent story in new and entertaining ways.
Naam Shabana offers a refreshing twist by telling the story of the making of a spy.
There are three key reasons why this film succeeds.
First, there is no major transformation from student to spy. Shabana has a something already in her character that makes her particularly suitable for intelligence work. While she experiences major tragedy in her life, these events only serve to lay a foundation that strengthens her resolve as she ventures into the undercover world. When Shabana is approached by the agency, she already has the physical and psychological tools at her disposal - she just needs a reason to implement them. To those unaware of her new role, she remains the simple girl next door. This girl just so happens to be capable of turning into a deadly weapon when necessary.
Second, Naam Shabana tells a story on two scales. The first is the personal story of Shabana. The second is a broader story of the repeated attempts of the agency to capture a dangerous arms dealer. These two stories run in parallel until their paths cross and Shabana is brought in to do what none of the seasoned agents have been able to do. While the audience knows the whole story, Shabana only knows her piece of the mission. As she fulfills each mission entrusted to her, her trust in her handlers - and the other agents who appear then disappear - adds an important element of mystery to this thriller. How long will Shabana's trust in these strangers last?
Third, the all-star cast from the original film Baby - Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa, Madhurima Tuli and Murali Sharma - return in cameo scenes that weave this story seamlessly into the next. There is no scene-stealing by these actors, however. As Shabana Khan, Taapsee Pannu presents a strong, capable character who is dedicated, driven and determined - a reflection of the actress' own hard work to perfect her role. Even the formidable Manoj Bajpayee, as Shabana's lead handler, provides a supporting role to make sure Shabana is taken care of - even if he does suggest at one point that if Shabana acts suspicious, she should be eliminated.
A special mention should be made of the appearance of South Indian superstar Prithviraj Sukumaran whose character has some major tricks up his sleeve. He is heartless and conniving - everything you could want in a villain.
Naam Shabana is an entertaining addition to modern Indian cinema and the spy film genre. We hope to see more films in the Baby franchise.
The following playlist features Naam Shabana trailers and behind-the-scenes videos.
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