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It’s great to see a woman take centerstage in a testestorone-charged genre like a spy thriller. And it’s even better if the role of a protagonist who loves to knock the air out of her opponents is acted out well.

Taapsee Panu, who impressed with Pink, should take a bow for her portrayal of fierce and emotion-free lead, Shabana in Naam Shabana. She’s rage-happy and is quick to kick anyone into submission.

A personal tragedy and subsequent quest for revenge see her enter the world of secret service and national security. In the prequel to the 2015 Baby, led by Akshay Kumar, this film is an introduction to how Shabana, who had a brief role in the hit, became a secret agent.

The thriller revolving around nabbing a fugitive arms dealer and a flesh trader (watch out for a sharp-suited, suave Prithviraj Sukumaran) has some top-notch performances from some of the most talented actors in Hindi cinema.

Kumar, who is also the producer of this film along with Neeraj Pandey, forms a perfect foil to Shabana.

He’s the proverbial knight in shining armour when the novice Shabana gets herself in a twist. While it’s heartening to see an A-lister allow an actress to hog the limelight, it’s annoying to watch him drag her like limp doll in some action-packed scenes. The scenes in which he shadows and rescues Shabana seem contrived.

Manoj Bajpayee, who discovers Pannu as a potential agent, does his bit of lending gravitas to his role as her superior. But the reasons of his conviction and handing a novice a dangerous operation as her first assignment calls for the suspension of belief.

However, a thriller is as good as its pace and its twists, but that’s where Naam Shabana stumbles and falls into lame adventure territory. It takes director Shivam Nair and scriptwriter Pandey an hour and more to get to the point. The scenes in which Pannu’s personal life is established are unhurried and therefore, frustrating. It’s the second half that’s more thrilling than the first. Prithviraj ticks all the right boxes as an actor to add a menacing twist to this film.

Pandey’s productions are adored for their no-frills approach and taut storytelling. But he seems to have pandered to the demands of having a club number in the name of following leads in a dangerous operation. Somehow, the urgency and the event-filled nature that are evident in his earlier ventures such as Special Chabbis and A Wednesday are missing.

The cat and mouse game between the agents and the anti-hero is also frustrating, as the viewer may wonder why is it that the shoot-on-sight order is so tough to follow. The climax seems contrived, too.

But if you are game to watch some good acting and realistic action sequences, then Naam Shabana should be on your list. But if you are in search of a watertight plot, then this movie has missed that mark.

Out now

Film: Naam Shabana

Language: Hindi

Run time: 155 minutes

Director: Shivam Nair

Rating:

Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Akshay Kumar, Prithviraj and Anumpam Kher

GN Rating: 3 out of 5.