Mission Mangal: Only Vidya Balan seems to know what she’s doing

It’s heartbreaking to see that a reality that shattered the world’s vision of India has been made so weakly on screen. What’s even more heartbreaking to see is that director Jagan Shakti puts together a wonderful cast but it just does not work. There is ambition in Mission Mangal, but no execution. And where the film falters the most is in letting Akshay Kumar take centre stage.

ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission is nothing but historic. To make a film on it, or any other such landmark event, is a privilege in itself. Jagan Shakti and R Balki simply waste this opportunity. What could’ve been a nail biting, edge of the seat film, is a lifeless drama while cliche one liners and too much pretentious patriotism.

The fact that Akshay Kumar is allowed to lead the film, and the mission – though we don’t know anything about him – is problematic in itself. The MOM was a female lead mission, but here, Kumar walks in and out of frames with his casual patriarchy, like he did in R Balki’s PadMan.

The women, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, Nithya Menen and Kirti Kulhari, all appear in extended cameos with little or no dialogues at all. They’re all not characters, but stereotypes. Pannu plays a woman who can’t drive, Sinha is the most liberated of them all so she smokes cigarettes and engages in casual sex, Menen is a married woman craving motherhood and Kulhari plays a divorced Muslim woman who can’t find an apartment to rent. These women come and go, suggesting home remedies as a solution to send India’s satellite to Mars. That may have worked in reality, none of us will find that out, but in the film, it’s far from believable.

So, while none of these women have been given anything to do apart from pressing buttons on machines and saying things like ‘okay’ and ‘ready to launch, sir’, the film almost entirely rests on Vidya Balan’s shoulders. Balan is a brilliant performer, there are no two thoughts about it. Even in Mission Mangal she hits her century, but how important is an individual’s century when the entire team is falling apart? Balan plays the Project Head, Tara almost like no one else could’ve done it. Her performance, like always, is honest and sincere, but the writing is not worth her caliber. It’s not a character that does any amount of justice to her and her talent, especially not after Tumhari Sulu, in which she played a working housewife. In Mission Mangal, Tara demanded that the film be her story, but she doesn’t get what she deserves, and so doesn’t Balan.

All in all, Mission Mangal could’ve made for a brilliant film, with Balki’s conceptualisation and this stunning group of women put together. But for now, it stands as a wasted opportunity, as did Fat Boy, India’s first attempt at orbiting Mars (in the film).

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