Synopsis – Based on true events of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launching the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan), making it the least expensive mission to Mars.
My Take – Yet another weekend, yet another Akshay Kumar nation-building film, and looking at the current box office numbers, this one is yet another triumph! Released on India’s Independence day, this Jagan Shakti directed film couldn’t have been timed more perfectly, considering that just last month, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched Chadrayaan-2, India’s second lunar exploration mission towards the moon.
All the while celebrating its completion of 50 glorious years, along with celebrating the 5th anniversary of Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the subject of this film.
Here, through this film, the makers offer the audience a sneak-peak into the life of those scientists who undertook the challenge of completing the cheapest interplanetary mission ever in the world, and succeeded in their first attempt, hereby making India proud, in the form of a fictionalized drama, that delightfully manages to strike a chord with the audience as it celebrates the power to dreams.
Of course, the film is flawed, since Bollywood doesn’t do an awful lot of films on rocket science, it’s obvious that the makers who are helming one of the first films on the subject would feel the need for oversimplification. Here, writers R. Balki, Jagan Shakti, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi, could have turned the whole thing into a boring science lesson, but instead let the film tread a fine line between science and keeping you entertained.
And the film masterfully knits diverse characters and their stories in the film without moving away from its soul essence, all with the right proportion of humor, emotions, and facts. Making this ride to Mars quite enjoyable.
Beginning in 2010, the story follows Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar), a mission director, who takes the entire blame of his colleague, Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan), and her error in judgement upon himself for the failure of GSLV Fat Boy space mission. As a punishment, Rakesh is moved to take over India’s Mars program, which everyone working at ISRO know to be a doomed project as it is not expected to take off anytime soon.
However, a guilt ridden Tara’s undying enthusiasm and her blending skills of home-science and alternate science prove to be an answer to Rakesh’s salvation. While Tara convinces Rakesh that her innovative methods can get an Indian satellite to Mars in just two years, their senior, the director of ISRO (Vikram Gokhale) is not convinced, adding to that Rupert Desai (Dalip Tahil), a recent turn around, who joined ISRO after a successful stint in NASA, ridicules their ideas.
But, when China’s mission to Mars with help of Russian components fail, hereby halting India’s plans with Russia, Rakesh and his team are given a chance to commence their project but at half their requested budget.
Making matters worse, despite Tara’s insistence of well qualified members, they are provided with inexperienced junior scientists in the form of Krithika Aggarwal (Taapsee Pannu), Eka Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha), Varsha Gowda (Nithya Menen), Neha Siddiqui (Kriti Kulhari), and Parmeshwar Naidu (Sharman Joshi) along with a very senior employee Ananth Iyer (H. G. Dattatreya). Despite their path being strewn with roadblocks, Tara and Rakesh are fiercely determined to make this work, not just for them, but for their country.
The first thing that will strike you as a viewer is that for a film about a space mission, the film does not have a lot of science. One could argue that the film seeks to cater to a large audience, many of who might not understand the intricacies of rocket science, and director Jagan Shakti does a commendable job of paving a middle path between a commercial and a scientific film.
Set at the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru, the film’s central idea of hustling and overcoming space-sized obstacles through tact and inventiveness is massively relatable and leaves you with a satisfying, feel-good vibe although the way one reaches there could’ve been more fulfilling had the story been told with more deftness. He just wants to makes sure to keep everyone engaged by showing, the balance of the personal lives and the professional lives of the scientists and the risks they face.
The film has a nail-biting end and the background music supports the genre perfectly, as it adds more depth to the happenings in the right chord. In what is genuinely a relief to watch, the women in the film don’t get mansplained by Akshay Kumar‘s Rakesh Dhawan and are introduced with their independent social contexts outside of their ISRO jobs.
Yes, the writing is not pure genius; but the execution and the ensemble of the cast leave you engaged, patriotic, and even amazed at times. Wrapped in the belief that home science can be used to rescue the team and explain the complex issues of space-science helps the story to connect with the audience at large.
The story has multiple tracks, each tracing the issues the characters are fighting in their life. Each one is replete with clichés but are yet very relatable and enjoyable. Like we have Tara tracking down her daughter at a city bar and then doing shots with her. Why? Because she is a cool Mom. There’s also her male chauvinist and Islamophobic husband, Sunil (Sanjay Kapoor), who prefers she concentrate on her family than work.
Kritika Agarwal’s learning-to-drive sequences are fun, and her hospital episode with an injured soldier husband Rishi (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) significant. The way key homilies and even solutions are derived from real-life trivia like a ‘Puri’ being fried, a laptop rebooted and how Eka Gandhi finds inspiration are interestingly devised and plausible script ploys. And there is the most relevant matter of accommodation for Neha Siddiqui, who finds herself facing communal bias.
However, when success stories are made into a film, the predictability factor hits the engagement. There is a fight scene inside the metro train which seemed to be a little unnecessary at a point.
Technically, the art direction and production design (Sandeep Sharad Ravade and Daniel Hansen respectively) and S. Ravi Verman’s cinematography are standout, as are the visual effects. Amit Trivedi’s background score is unobtrusive and pleasantly low-key, while his music is functional.
The makers have also given the due credit to the real team members of ISRO at the credit roll. In today’s world, where there are enough people to tell you why you can’t achieve your dreams, the film leaves us with the hope: If you can dream then dare to chase it.
Nevertheless, like I mentioned above, it is the performances which keep us glued to the screen. As always, Akshay Kumar is magnificently in sync with his character, with those natural tweaks of naughtiness, humor, passion and sadness as well. Here is a complete natural, a superstar who is growing phenomenally as actor with every single film.
While Akshay Kumar is the face of the film, Vidya Balan is the leading lady. She holds the limelight with her strong on-screen presence and the maturity of her character is worth the praise. Her dominance over the screen makes it a celebration of womanhood. Balancing her domestic life with an old-fashioned husband and demanding kids with an equally punishing professional life- this could be the story of every modern working woman.
Taapsee Pannu once again scores with her expressions and body language in a simple, uni-dimensional role. Sonakshi Sinha has a layered character and she scores high, as does H.D. Dattatreya as the elderly scientist in the team, while Kriti Kulhari and Nithya Menen are good.
Sharman Joshi plays a familiar role and once again essays it with enough charm. In supporting roles, Vikram Gokhale, Sanjay Kapoor, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Purab Kohli are endearing, as Dalip Tahil hams it up as required for his role. On the whole, ‘Mission Mangal’ is a feel-good patriotic entertainer with enough engaging moments to look past its flaws.
Directed – Jagan Shakti
Rated – PG
Run Time – 130 minutes