Move over First Man, Bollywood is coming up with space films of its own in Salute, Chanda Mama Door Ke

Gautam Chintamani

Jun,23 2018 17:28:04 IST

The first time the upcoming Neil Armstrong biography First Man made news was way back in 2003 when Clint Eastwood had bought the film rights of the book First Man: A Life of Neil Armstrong (Simon & Schuster, 2005). While Eastwood never got around to make the film, now nearly a decade and a half later, finally there is a film version of the James R Hansen book. Directed by Damien Chazelle and featuring Ryan Gosling as the astronaut who became the first man to walk on the moon, the recently released trailer of First Man has made it one of the most anticipated films of 2018. Ironically enough, the trailer of First Man also coincided with news reports of Salute, the biopic based on Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, finally taking off.

Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in First Man. Universal Pictures

Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in First Man. Universal Pictures

Much like the tale of Neil Armstrong, who became an inspiration for millions of Americans in the 1960s as he took the small step for man which was indeed a giant leap for mankind, Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma became the face of India’s grit and determination to craft its own indigenous space program that took on the best in the world. For most of 2017, there was a great buzz surrounding Aamir Khan’s participation as Rakesh Sharma in Salute and there were talks about Priyanka Chopra being signed to portray the role of Sharma’s wife Madhu. But sometime around December last year, it was reported that Khan had walked out of the project ostensibly to pursue his magnum opus Mahabharat. The industry was also bustling with the news of the actor-director not taking on any more acting roles for nearly a decade in order to concentrate on his Mahabharat series. Like in the case of many big ticket projects that fail to take off, there were also rumors of creative differences between Aamir and director Mahesh Mathai. Interestingly enough, Aamir reportedly asked his ‘friend’ Shah Rukh Khan to step in and play the role of Sharma. Irrespective of whether the latter agreed because of the former asking him or it so happened that Salute joined the ranks of Darr (1993), the Yash Chopra thriller where SRK replaced Aamir after he had walked out owing to creative differences, it now seems that SRK would finally commence on the film around September 2018.

There seems to be a rush to make films about Indians in space and along with Salute, there is Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan’s Chanda Mama Door Ke that is said to trace the journey of India’s space program. Despite generating curiosity about being India’s first 'space movie' and news of actors such as Sushant Singh Rajput, who had also posted a picture of himself in a spacesuit during a training session at NASA, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and R Madhavan being featured, the film however is said to have been put on the back burner as the producers were not able to raise enough funds to go ahead.

Both Salute, which like First Man, might focus on an individual’s story or Chanda Mama Door Ke that could be more on the lines of The Right Stuff (1983) that followed a group of men and women who had no clue how to run a space program or select people to be in it, would make for stories worth telling. A story such as Salute has far more layers than First Man as unlike the Apollo 11 mission that took Armstrong to the Moon, Sharma’s space mission saw India collaborate with the erstwhile USSR. In 1982, the then-Squadron Leader Sharma was selected to become a cosmonaut and participate in the joint program between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Soviet Intercosmos space program, and became the first Indian to enter space. What is more, this happened at the height of the Cold War where India also had to walk a tightrope to ensure that no one forgot how we also championed the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1950s.

Similarly, the story of India’s Space Program is nothing less than fascinating. It is one of the few nations that was pushed to the corner when it came to external help and yet today it has one of the most advanced and cost-effective space programs. Be it Wing Commander Sharma, who spent a total of 7 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes aboard the Salyut 7 Orbital station and famously said, “Saare jahan se achchha” (the best in the world) when the then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked how India looked from outer space, or some of the nameless men and women who made India a space superpower, such biopics need to be told, for as even if we think we know everything that is there to be known, the basic nature of man’s spacefaring enterprise can never be celebrated enough.

Updated Date: Jun 23, 2018 17:28 PM