Mission Mangal Hindi Movie ReviewFeature Film | U | Drama, History | 2h 13min
Another weekend. Another Akshay Kumar film. Another attempt at pleasing and appeasing his ever-growing fan base of "patriots" whose only contribution to the progress of our society is watching these Akshay Kumar films and inevitably crying and whistling at the tear-jerker of an ending with swelling nationalist background score tugging at their heartstrings. Intellectuals say there's no real formula to success that can be repeated over and over to the same effect. Akshay Kumar's recent box office record may disagree.
As my hatred of maths in school reminds me, the best formulas are the ones that facilitate the most ease of reusability and Jagan Shakti's Mission Mangal fits comfortably within Kumar's parameters of choosing scripts nowadays: achieving national pride in the face of all odds and oppositions. For a change, Kumar does share the spotlight here with his 5 female co-stars, but the essential crux of the film remains along the same lines as is expected from him now.
Undoubtedly, ISRO'S Mission Mangal is one of the prouder moments for our country over the last few years, beating Western and Asian countries alike whose Space Programs are much more advanced and well funded compared to us. The achievement is testament to the resilience and scrappiness of our countrymen, who never know when to throw in the towel and accept defeat. But the question to be asked is, did we really need a whole film full of big stars to retell the story of this achievement which is as recent as 2014?
The answer might just be no, even though the clapping audiences in theaters may disagree. Despite a writing team of 4, including Jagan Shakti himself and veteran director R Balki, there clearly isn't enough plot here to sustain a 135 minutes long film and not nearly enough drama to keep the stakes rising. The writing team does try hard to throw a monkey wrench in the path of our science team every time the going gets too smooth. On the flip side, all these obstacles are too easily surmounted, the answers to every scientific and logistical complication solved with incredible convenience to all involved, be it getting re-funded or even just switching the satellite off and on like your internet modem when they lose contact with it a crore kilometres from Earth.
Each character is given their own eccentricities and personal life issues but these too are mostly writing of convenience, with everyone being defined by that one particular problem of their own and nothing else, making almost all involved extremely one-dimensional and at times even caricaturish (especially the antagonistic NASA-returned Rupert, hammed to the heavens by Dalip Tahil.)
The only person who even remotely comes across as a fleshed out living being is Tara (Vidya Balan), who keeps both the Mars team and the film itself from falling apart every time Shakti and his writing team oversimplify science to the point of child's play. The film on the whole belongs to Balan, who plays an overextended mother/scientist struggling to find work-life balance but copping everything with a warm smile and a beating heart that makes it impossible not to root for whatever team she's on, whether she's finding scientific solutions while frying "puris" or gate-crashing her daughter's night out at the pub, only to take over the dance floor with her husband. Balan brings immense resilience to her part and she stands out even more due to lack of solid support or screentime for any of the other characters.
Akshay Kumar is mostly a sore thumb sticking out of the proceedings, the writers giving him one-liners galore to make full use of his presence, most of which fall flat. There's not much else for him to do, except sing retro Hindi songs under his breath in the middle of crisis situations, a character tick which also disappears as the film goes on. Nithya Menen makes a confident hindi-language debut and her character arc does get a juicy dilemma in having to choose between her dreams and starting a family but that subplot is also done away soon enough as all the crinkles are papered over with saccharine montages that solve all problems. Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu and Kriti Kulhari really don't get enough to do here, nor does Sharman Joshi, even though each of them do play their simplistic roles with earnestness.
I would be lying if I said the final success of the Mission Mangal team during the overlong climax didn't move me at all. As the Mangalyaan satellite finally makes it to the Mars orbit, I felt a part of that achievement somehow and proud at what had been accomplished by these characters against overwhelmingly tough odds. If only the creatives behind Mission Mangal had given the audience some credit and gone deeper than newspaper headlines that can be found with a Google search, maybe this film could've gone where nobody had been before. In its present state, it's nothing more than a crowdpleaser that may get some applause on account of it's Independence Day release but will be long forgotten from the memories of that same crowd by the time our 73rd year of Independence comes to a close.