If good intentions made good cinema then every propaganda film by Films Division would be a classic. In the absence of a hefty grip and a budget to rev up the key sequences pertaining to the historical nucleur explosions Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran ends up more as a fable of one man’s heroism than the saga of a nation that woke up to a nucleur dawn.
The facts are twisted into commercial shapes including a flashpoint button-on-the-fingertip climax where the film’s editor runs with breathless bravado from pillar to post trying to keep the audiences’ interest alive.
But all in vain. Parmanu is like a promised havoc that never goes beyond a wound-up whimper. The film’s opening shows the bureaucrat-hero Ashwat Rana (John Abraham, starchy and imperturbable) grappling with a roomful of bored colleagues who are more interested in the samosas than Ashwat’s plans to nucleurize Apna Bharat Mahaan.
It’s an opening paying a direct homage to Shimit Amin’s Chak De.
Throughout John Abraham remains in character. Implacably committed to the mission even if it means pissing off his wife (played by Anuja Sathe who was excellent just recently in Blackmail, what happened here???) and even if America gets on the wrong side.
“America” is imagined with outrageous tackiness. A bunch of Caucasians (probably tourists picked from Gateway Of India) sitting in front obsolete computers monitoring India’s nucleur movements. That’s Uncle Sam watching.
The computers and one antiquated cellphone are just about the sum-total of period references that work in the film. The film gets its Mahabharat sinfully wrong. Firstly, the serial by B R Chopra shown being aired in 1998 when the serial was on Doordarshan until 1990. Names of the five Pandavas are used as code names for John and his four colleagues thrown at the vortex of the Pokhran deserts even if it means pissing off the entire government machinery. With one man (Boman Irani) from the PM’s office supporting Ashwat Rana’s mission, India’s nucleur prospects have nothing to fear.
With John Abraham playing the rebellious anti-establishment hero hellbent on doing right no matter what the cost, the film reads more like a Hollywood cops thriller than a faithful chronicle of India’s nucleur makeover in the deserts of Pokhran. While sections of the film get unbearably jingoistic, towards midpoint the plot gets absurdly ‘espionaged’.
An immoral spy (who is the film’s most interesting character) from Pakistan named Sajjan snoops into our hero’s hotelroom in Pokhran, plants an eavesdropping device and gets Ashwat’s wife to suspect him of infidelity.
It all seems highly improbable and manipulated. By all means, honour the country with flag-waving films. But at least make sure that the film doesn’t prove unworthy of its nationalistic aspirations.