Why is this film not a pure music video, or a Lara Croft: Tom Raider type video game? Well, I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a spin-off—the kind of pix Hollywood makes tonnes of money from, along with remakes, reboots, and sequels.
The movie has evidently been spun off from the introductory scene of the character Shabana (Tapsee Pannu: supremely fit, and feisty), who enters rather late into Neeraj Pandey’s Baby (2015), looking quiet and submissive, dressed in salwar kameez, and suddenly transforms herself to take on a bunch of baddies with her badass martial arts moves. That scene worked. Because it was so unpredictable. This film doesn’t. Just for the opposite reason.
The filmmakers go back to explore Shabana’s back-story. What is it that you might want to know about her? Precious little, by the looks of it. She was born with one expression: pursed lips, with an occasional grin, and a permanently brooding face. She wears a standard uniform: salwar kameez, sneakers, haversack, and a thick black wrist watch. She accidentally killed her alcoholic dad.
In a scene reminiscent of old mawali movies, a bunch of louts led by a “bigde vidhayak (MLA) ka bigda beta”, holding cans of strong beer in a topless jeep, harass this girl and her friend on a bike in Bombay. The friend dies. She wants to kill them all. Okay. That’s still the back-story.
What about this film’s story? That’s separate. It starts towards the end, while other characters from Baby (Akshay Kumar, Zakir Hussain, Anupam Kher in cameos) get in as late as Shabana did in the original, to take on a Bond-like international villain.
Now Baby was a pretty snazzy thriller, which made Indian spies look uber cool, with much skin in the global game. Genre wise, so is this film, which will surely make Ajit Doval proud, furthering delusions of India’s super-power status. It’s another matter that the stories of RAW and IB, and the infighting between them, that one hears, with bureaucrats scheming for foreign postings, present an altogether another picture.
But this is the movies, for God’s sake. And Manoj Bajpayee as top RAW agent has absolutely every nook and corner of Bombay (shot rather well) figured out as he stands before a life-sized poster of the Taj in Colaba, tracking every move with his Bluetooth and cellphone, much like Naseer’s Common Man in Pandey’s directorial debut, A Wednesday (2008).
Pandey has written this prequel, split into two totally separate films. And to be fair when the movie does cut to the chase eventually, to chase down the villain, some of the thrills do kick in. Sadly you’ve polished off your popcorn tub already, taking in the corniness until that point, while your head spins in circles in this pointless spin-off, listening to the zany ‘Zubi zubi zubi’ number from Mithun’s Dance Dance (1987), and so much else. Okay, sorry, seriously, no knock on ‘Zubi zubi zubi’.