Mission Mangal: India should be proud of this inspiring film, just like it is of Mangalyaan
Mission Mangal is not your typical chest-beating, dialogue-spewing jingoistic release on Independence Day.
Mission Mangal is not your typical chest-beating, dialogue-spewing jingoistic release on Independence Day. In fact, it is an engaging space drama that benefits from both well-etched female characters, and a battalion of men, led by co-producer and lead star Akshay Kumar, who do not hijack the spotlight.
The first look poster of Mission Mangal was criticised for displaying Akshay Kumar most prominently, despite his claim that the film is dedicated to the five women in the fore. However, as Vidya Balan points out in an interview, the fact that Akshay's face is bigger than the women the film serves only as a marketing tool.
All the women have substantial roles, both in personal and professional capacities. However, the leading lady, or the woman in charge of the mission, clearly is Vidya. She plays Tara Shinde, Project Director at the Indian Space and Research Institute unit in Bengaluru, of the now-popular Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), or Mangalyaan, that a group of scientists at ISRO undertake in 2013. She resorts to childlike energy and extremely emotive eyes to display her inspiring drive. Let us say she takes a page out of the book of her titular character in Suresh Triveni's 2017 slice-of-life comedy Tumhari Sulu. But she plays her character very differently here, breaking even more stereotypes in relatively less screen time.
Taapsee Pannu continues to be on a roll, though here, the leading lady is reduced to a supporting role. She still is convincing as what she described as a grahini. Her Pink co-star Kirti Kulhari lends some steely resolve to the film and often does not shy away from vulnerability. Sonakshi Sinha appears in full make-up even when she wakes up in bed. However, she holds her fort in front of all the talented powerhouses, following her winning act in Abhishek Varman's period drama Kalank earlier this year. Nithya Menen's Hindi is a bit shaky but kudos to her for doing her own dubbing. She plays a South Indian woman in the film as well, so one does not mind her shortcomings.
Akshay Kumar often steals the show in the film with his smooth balancing act. Akshay balances his superstar presence immensely well with the humility of a man who does not mind passing on the spotlight to his female co-stars. He is hilarious in trademark Akshay Kumar fashion in a tailor-made role. He also shines in the parts where he is supposed to lead the pack, and also does not mind bowing his head to the women in the film, when he is expected to.
Not only him, but other male stars in the film also deserve a large chunk of the credit. South actor HG Dattatreya plays the wise old man with a hint of mischief and truckloads of cuteness. Sharman Joshi carries forward his iconic role in 3 Idiots, of a superstitious man even though he is in a field where he is supposed to be everything but that. He should learn a lesson from Vidya's character, who believes there is a force beyond the science and says, "Pay your respect to the force, not the face" to her son, played by Rohan Joshi, who develops an inclination towards Islam.
*Spoiler alert starts* Sanjay Kapoor plays Vidya's husband, who always blames her for not running the house and raising their kids efficiently. In a scene that sits well within the narrative yet feels incoherent with the grammar of the film, Kapoor is a hoot when he dances to his famous song 'Akhiyan Milau'. Purab Kohli plays Nithya's husband, and does a good job of letting her shine since the film belongs more to her than him. *Spoiler alert ends*
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays Taapsee's husband, and just like in the film, is a solid anchor to her on screen.
Jagan makes an assured debut here since he is not only well-versed with the subject (his sister is a scientist at ISRO, and he has also worked under an ISRO scientist), but also knows how to tell an interesting story, with several characters weaved into the narrative. R Balki, director of films like Cheeni Kum, Paa and Padman, leads a team of writers who give Akshay trademark Balki doses of sarcastic humour, and also write a riveting screenplay inspired from true events. They dumb down the jargon yet ensure science remains at the forefront of the film.
Sandeep Sharad Ravade deserves admiration for recreating the ISRO unit with great accuracy and meticulousness. The film relies heavily on the VFX department, which unlike the glimpses in the trailer, does not disappoint in crucial scenes of the narrative, since by then, the audience is fully invested in the mission. Editor Chandan Arora cuts the film almost perfectly within the limited framework he had been given by the writers. Ravi K Varman displays his vast experience as he cranks the camera with great command. The costume design has been kept to a bare minimum yet it serves the purpose of making all the actors look good. Overall, just like how each scientist resorted to minimalism and the Indian practice of jugaad in their respective department, the innovative technicians also put together a film ingeniously. They are scientists in their own right.
*Spoiler alert starts* An important aside though. The climax shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi indirectly taking credit for the success of MOM. However, the fact is that the rover arrived in the Mars orbit only a few months after Modi came into power. Presumably, his well-known affinity with Akshayallowed him to earn some extra brownie points for the success of a mission he has little contribution to. In fact, while Kumar does insert an all-is-well-that-ends-well backhanded compliment to the opposition, the Congress' support has been diluted in the film since it is mentioned that the party in power then was not too keen to allocate funds to the then-contentious mission. While a benefit of doubt could be given to that possibility, and to the fact that Modi is a better orator than the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it does misrepresent the mission by suggesting that Modi had a huge role to play in its success. *Spoiler alert ends*
But the film is way beyond just optics. The whole team of ISRO, particularly those who had a key role, have been given credit at the end of the film. Also, what Kumar and Balan's characters hammer home repeatedly is that science has the potential to bring glory to the nation. It would have seemed like a joke had it not actually happened in the real future.
'Impossible' is certainly not an adjective that goes well with science. Probably, the said force beyond the science is the will to make optimum use of the same.
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