Inspiring,yes. But in an uncomfortably perspiring way. Mission Mangal, based on a true and truly commendable mission to launch a rocket into Mars, tried very hard to tick all the right boxes in the manual entitled ‘How To Get A Tax Exemption For Your Film.’ It addresses the question of India’s national and international pride. It speaks about empowered women balancing a personal life with their mission to orbit India into Mars.
Most importantly, and this one is saved for the last, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears on screen to praise the mission that we’ve just seen being accomplished in a film that tries to be as pleasing as it could possibly be. In the process the film loses out on a more processed and sorted narrative. The characters are mostly one-dimensional.
Except for Vidya Balan who has more space than the other mission-targeted ladies, the actresses are most constrained by space and defined by boxed definitions of urban working class women.
In the process the men come across as shadowy and cardboard-like. Sanjay Kapoor as Vidya Balan’s ever-complaining husband trying to manage a late-night-loving daughter and a son who threatens to convert to Islam (because he is an A R Rahman fan!) comes across as specially annoying. In one unbearably sanctimonious sequence Vidya and her husband rush to a night club to ‘rescue’ their daughter, get drunk and start dancing to Ankhiyan milaye kabhi aankhiyan jhukaye from the Sanjay Kapoor starrer Raja.
In another corny-as-hell sequence the female protagonists beat up a man in a metro train after he roughs up a drunken Akshay Kumar. Kumar, ever the gallant soldier, watches the ladies take center stage. Throughout the film he hangs around the all-important mission letting the ladies have their moment of glory but making sure gets the best lines and the final right to veto any decision.
Vidya Balan who should rightfully have been the pivotal character must be content as the second-in-command. She is as usual wonderfully intense and graceful as long as the script allows her to be. The rest of the ladies have to make do with sketchy anecdotes to show their individuality. Tapsee Pannu comes across as specially hazy, hanging around waiting for something substantial to do. Kriti Kulhari’s character as Muslim divorcee looking for a home to rent had some potential squandered away in what the film seems to specialize in trivializing issues. As for the super-talented Nithya Menen, I wanted to see more of her on screen. But the script had other plans.
That mission to Mars never comes down to being the vital national triumph that it aspires to be. When Akshay Kumar isn’t busy sparring with the NASA returned idiot scientist (Dalip Tahil) he is busy humming old Hindi songs and chewing on a laddoo after an aborted mission because…well….the laddoo doesn’t say it can’t be eaten after a failure.
This is one of Akshay’s verbal salvos. He even gets to pun on NASA with the embarrassing coinage ‘Satya-NASA’. The problem is the script seems more interested in the missiles that the film’s leading man fires than any other. By the time the ladies got together to sing and dance and clean their office with shiny brooms I was lost on the mission, sold on the film’s spirited ode to escapism. One needn’t go to the Mars to experience outer space nirvana. A film like this one gives us the same experience at ground level.