The official poster of 'Mission Mangal'. Photograph:( Twitter )
Unlike ‘Hidden Figures ’ , where the three women faced strict opposition based on the colour of their skins, the problems in ‘Mission Mangal’ are more logistical than emotional
There is a lot to celebrate in director Jagan Shakti’s film 'Mission Mangal'. Based on ISRO’s successful Mars Mission in 2014 which catapulted India among the big league in the space program, the film celebrates the unrelenting hard work and dedication of 17000 engineers and scientists who made the mission possible.
Written by Shakti and R Balki, who also serves as the creative director, ‘Mission Mangal’ may have taken copious liberty in terms of characterisations and over simplifies science but ultimately delivers a film that makes you proud of India and its unknown heroes.
Akshay Kumar plays Rakesh Dhawan, a senior scientist who is made the director of Mission Mars after one of his earlier missions fail. It’s sort of a punishment posting to a department which most ISRO scientists feel will never take flight. Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan), Raghav’s project manager in previous missions though thinks otherwise. As Rakesh and Tara go on convincing the higher authorities of the organisation about their mission, they face multiple obstacles from the word go. From setting up a team of experienced people to getting an approval of the desired budget, to getting the desired satellite in the orbit of Mars in a limited time- nothing seemed to go in their favour initially.
Eventually, they put together a motley group of junior scientists consisting of Eka (Sonakshi Sinha), Kritika (Taapsee Pannu), Neha (Kirti Kulhari), Varsha (Nithya Menen), Parmeshwar(Sharman Joshi) and Ananth (HG Dattatreya)- who initially are not willing to put extra hours at work but later come on board to achieve the impossible.
While the story is an inspiring one, it is the oversimplification that spoils the narrative. Science is dumbed down to make it more relatable for the audience at large. Then there are several scenes which seem so unnecessary to the main plot and one can feel that it has put there merely to make a science-heavy film more commercially viable.
Since its an Akshay Kumar film, there are surely some lines that seem straight out of books of nationalism. An ailing Army officer eggs his scientist wife to go back to work and not turn into a nurse because she too is on duty for the country. The story- through its subplots- also pay token mention to certain pertinent issues at hand including Islamophobia, and women’s right to choose career over motherhood. And while the intent is good, one can’t help but wonder if it has all been included to appease one and all.
All the actors deliver commendable performances but it's Vidya Balan who shines the most. Even though her character seems an extension of what she played in ‘Tumhari Sulu’- as the multi-tasker cool mom, Balan still manages to shine the most in ‘Mission Mangal’. Her eyes light up every time the mission leaps ahead, her eyes look tired and worn out when her ever complaining husband (Sanjay Kapoor) nags about some household chores that hasn’t been done. Balan is such a natural and manages to fit into every character she plays really well making it her own. The other lead Akshay Kumar, who also serves as the producer of the film, lets Balan take the centre stage, while Kumar is himself pretty comfortable playing a maverick scientist. Of course, he gets to say the dramatic patriotic lines on more occasions than one but the actor makes his character quite believable. Much like their characters, Kumar and Balan ably support each other- their camaraderie spills out the screen and they make for an interesting pair. Bollywood films usually romantically pair up two lead actors in a film, so it is interesting to watch the actors play a boss and a subordinate in this film instead.
Pannu, Sinha, Menen, and Kulhari also look refreshingly relatable in each of their parts. Each of their characters is quite distinct from each other and they suit their parts well.
Unlike ‘Hidden Figures’, where the three women faced strict opposition based on the colour of their skins, the problems in ‘Mission Mangal’ are more logistical than emotional. The women have to manage home and work and only listen to taunts of a senior scientist, a NASA returned, Indian American played by Dalip Tahil, who makes his character more comical than evil. I also wish they had shown more of ISRO and the work they did to achieve such a feat instead of dramatising the personal stories of each of the women.
The film gives a hat –tip to scores of women in India who juggle work and home with complete ease. Termed as ‘MOM’ (Mars Orbit Mission) it truly celebrates its women and lets the male superstar underplay his role. In fact, in one scene one of the men wonders out loud whether the mission would have been as successful if it was termed ‘DAD’ instead of ‘ MOM’.
Despite the lines that play to the gallery, despite its oversimplification of science, and its unnecessary need to put in scenes just for entertainment purpose- ‘Mission Mangal’ works. It tells a story that is worth telling; it celebrates women and their inherent ability to juggle multiple roles and also puts the spotlight on some unsung heroes of our time. Ultimately, it’s a wholesome family entertainer that makes for a perfect watch this Independence day.