Mission Mangal Movie Review: Akshay Kumar brings obvious star power

Mission Mangal Movie Review: Akshay Kumar brings obvious star power

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Mission Mangal Movie Review: Akshay Kumar brings obvious star power to the table in addition to some comic relief. He wisecracks his way through virtually every crisis. The actor resorts to excess in ill-advised ways.

Mission Mangal Movie Review: The 5 Actresses Outshine Everything Else In Akshay Kumar's Film
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Taapsee Pannu, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Kirti Kulhari, Nithya Menen and Sharman Joshi

Director: Jagan Shakti
Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

One of Indian cinema's first full-fledged space exploration dramas, Mission Mangal opens with a failed ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) mission. Project director Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) - the character's name is a nod to the pioneering space scientist Satish Dhawan - faces an inquiry. He remains unfazed by the grilling.

Failure, Dhawan asserts, is a stepping stone and there can be no science without experiments and trials and errors. But one of his key team members, Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan), takes the setback very badly and hopes to be presented with a chance for a shot at redemption. Mission Mangal, co-written and directed by Jagan Shakti, centres on the turnaround that she and her mentor spearhead. The duo dreams big. They dream Mars.

But Mars may seem to be the last thing on Tara's mind when we first see her in a domestic setting. She balances home and work with amazing poise. One moment the lady is in the prayer room of a modest Bangalore abode seeking blessings from the Almighty, the very next she in the kitchen, ruing the fact that the maid has played truant for the day.

Tara, who is married to the feckless Sunil (Sanjay Kapoor), a nagging man who does little to make life easier for her, is a multitasking mother to two hyperactive teenagers, an inquisitive boy and a free-spirited girl. Both pose questions, but the supermom is always ready with a clinching riposte. She brings the same sangfroid to her role as an ISRO scientist.

Four other women of substance add weight to the team that Tara and Dhawan put together for an audacious Mars mission in 2010-2011. The audience is introduced in quick succession to lightweight satellite designer Varsha Pillai (Nithya Menen in her Hindi debut), navigation and communication scientist Kritika Agarwal (Taapsee Pannu), satellite autonomy specialist Neha Siddiqui (Kirti Kulhari) and propulsion engineer Eka Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha).

Each of these women has a life outside the mission lab located in a space that resembles a warehouse. Varsha's mom-in-law frets over the fact that she is no hurry to become a mother but her husband (Purab Kohli in a cameo) stands by her. Kritika is married to a soldier (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub in a special appearance) who is hospitalised with injuries sustained in a conflict zone skirmish. The mishap throws her off for a while, but her husband gives her a pep talk strong enough to force her to leave his bedside and return to work.

Neha, struggling to come to terms with the shock of her husband having left her for another woman, struggles to find a home on rent owing to her religious identity. And Eka, a woman raised in an orphanage that gave her the Gandhi surname like it did every inmate because the Mahatma is the Father of the Nation, is bent upon securing employment with NASA.

The Mars project faces many hurdles, budgetary and otherwise, along the way. When Varsha reports that she is pregnant and might have to withdraw from the team, the never-say-die Dhawan, who has a Hindi film song to hum for every occasion, thinks up a name for the mission - MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission).

The agnostic mission director isn't the only man in the core team. He ropes in the hopelessly superstitious Parmeshwar Joshi (Sharman Joshi) and the ageing structural engineer Ananth Iyengar (H.G. Dattatreya), who decides that sending a satellite to the orbit of Mars is far more exciting than a retired life spent in undertaking pilgrimages.

All nicely set up, Mission Mangal is ready to soar into the stratosphere even as many questions hover over the film. How advisable is turning a serious science-themed drama into a populist entertainer complete with high drama and over-simplified plotting? On the evidence of what pans out on the screen, there can be no clear answer. Some parts of Mission Mangal do work; others don't.

The tussle that Dhawan's team has with a dismissive Indian-origin NASA scientist Rupert Desai (Dalip Tahil), who has been drawn back into the ISRO fold but only has jibes to direct at the votaries of the Mars mission, is meant to constitute the film's principal conflict point. Delivered with broad strokes that obviate the possibility of any nuance or subtlety to seep in, the clash between the power of native intelligence and the lure of expensive borrowed technology is unconscionably trivialised.

Akshay Kumar brings obvious star power to the table in addition to some comic relief. His character is the sole member of the MOM team who is never assailed by doubts. He wisecracks his way through virtually every crisis. The actor resorts to excess in ill-advised ways, not the least in a scene in which he makes a simulated phone call to A P J Abdul Kalam. In one scene, one of the scientists working on the project utters the word impossible. Dhawan flies off the handle and gives her a mouthful. The girl returns the next day with a solution to an intractable problem and the mission director cheekily takes credit for firing her up with his boorish behaviour.

The girls are infinitely more interesting and more believable than the character played by Akshay because they face a gamut of challenges and setbacks and yet keep their chins up. Each one of them, at different junctures of the film, is on the verge of quitting. But they hang in there for one shot at glory. At its business end, the film quickens it pace significantly and the drama of the launch after many anxious moments caused by bad weather in the Bay of Bengal and the subsequent course of the PSLV towards the mission of breaking through the Van Allen radiation belt and reaching the Martian orbit achieves fever pitch.

As most of the mission room commands, instructions and responses in the film's elongated finale are barked out in English, electronic media reportage is employed to simplify and explain the scientific jargon in Hindi although, in reality, there was no blow-by-blow, 24/7 television news channel coverage of the event, at least not to the extent that the film depicts.

Akshay Kumar in a still from Mission Mangal.

The cast of Mission Mangal has actresses that we love because of the choices they have made in their career - apart from Vidya Balan, who is terrific here, there are Taapsee Pannu and Kirti Kulhari. Wish they had more to do in the film. The two make every little opportunity they get count. Sonakshi Sinha, playing the rebellious Eka, is delightfully good, as is Nithya Menen in the role of the staid and steady Varsha Pillai. The five women outshine everything else in Mission Mangal - even the dramatic lift-off the PSLV.

This isn't Mission Magnificent. But it isn't Mission Mangled either. Mission Mangal is watchable, if not always exhilarating, if you can get over its excesses.

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Cast: Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Nithya Menen, Kirti Kulhari, Sharman Joshi, HG Dattatreya, Vikram GokhaleDirector: Jagan ShaktiMen are from Mars and women are from Venus, the popular adage goes. But Mission Mangal upends that idea with the story of a space mission to Mars propelled predominantly by female energy. The film is a fictionalised account of Mangalyaan, the ISRO Mars program that was launched in 2013 and which features headlining roles for the scientists – most of them women – behind that ambitious endeavour.The mission was a moment of pride in more ways than one. India was the first country to crack a Mars mission in its first attempt, and at a budget of roughly Rs 454 crores, a fraction of the cost of other international space missions. Mangalyaan’s story, then, is ripe for the big screen. It is the blockbuster cliché – the underdogs who beat insurmountable odds. Helmed by first-time director Jagan Shakti, Mission Mangal is helped along by the star power of Akshay Kumar, but it is elevated by smart filmmaking, and a clutch of winning performances led by the excellent Vidya Balan.This is a movie about space, scientists, facts and physics, but there is no dearth of emotion. Some of it is trite and there is manipulative pop patriotism – the sort you expect from an Akshay Kumar film. Yet Mission Mangal is more restrained in tone than the star’s recent outings like Kesari, PadMan, and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. There are also genuine moments in the film when you laugh, and when your heart soars. Despite the formulaic arc, the makers deliver an entertaining account of a complicated mission.Akshay plays Rakesh Dhawan, who heads the mission. This is a scientist who has dedicated his life to ISRO, with no time for distractions like love or family. After a failed mission, he is “demoted” to a Mars program, in the hope that he will take the hint and quit. In one of the film’s charming scenes he walks into a dusty office in a deadbeat building at ISRO that has been allocated for the Mars program. An optimist who’s always ready with a joke or an old Hindi song, he pretends that the barren space is the Red Planet. As a clay water pot releases a trickle, and a stray cat jumps in through the window, he jokes that there is both water and life on Mars.Akshay’s character is clearly the leader, but the brains belong to Tara Shinde (Vidya), who comes up with the idea of chasing the Mars dream with a low-cost rocket and satellite. This brainwave comes from the practice of frying pooris on a no-flame, a concept she cheerily demonstrates to ISRO top brass. Cleverly, but also a tad simplistically, the film employs accessible (and frequently eye-rolling) theories and concepts to explain the science of the mission to a lay audience. And because desi films must have a videsi villain, we get NASA-returned Rupert Desai (Dalip Tahil), who assigns a ragtag bunch of juniors to the Mars program, unwilling to waste his best men for an impossible project. Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Kirthi Kulhari, Nithya Menen, Sharman Joshi, and HG Dattatreya make up the rest of the team, each bringing their respective backstory. Vidya’s is the best realised of the lot; she’s a wife and mother juggling domestic responsibilities with her consuming passion for science.There are some contrived bits, like one in which the team happily takes up brooms and brushes to spruce up their office while humming an upbeat song. Or a needless fight in the Bangalore metro, scripted presumably to turn the cliché of women as victims on its head. In fact, the makers cram a lot into the film – there are token pleas for inclusion, religious tolerance, and gender equality. The film could’ve been crisper and sharper without these distractions, and might have come up at least 10 minutes shorter. But as frequently happens when you’re invested in a story or its characters, you’re willing not to sweat the small stuff.There is some pandering at the end with a flashback of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s congratulatory address in 2014. Perhaps the makers would’ve done well to have also included that the Mangalyaan project was announced in the year 2012 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.Of the cast, Akshay Kumar is reliably strong, bringing irreverence and humour to the proceedings, as if to make sure the film never becomes ‘too smart’. There’s also sound acting from the other actors, particularly Taapsee Pannu and Nitya Menen, and plenty laughs from Kannada actor Dattatreya. But it’s Vidya Balan who truly stands out, diving into her role of the impassioned scientist with full commitment. Vidya makes it convincing that her character’s ideas are fuelled by day-to-day life examples.Ultimately, Mission Mangal is enjoyable and entertaining. Even the jingoism doesn’t feel entirely out of place. Director Jagan Shakti delivers a space movie that lifts off and frequently soars. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.
Director: Jagan Shakti

Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Vidya Balan, Kirti Kulhari, Nithya Menen, Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha

Genius is intangible. So you have movies about clever people and their impossible missions resort to simplistic narrative techniques. Like numbers sparkling on a blackboard. Like eccentric characters – one scientist hums songs to himself under stress, another prays to God for the science to succeed. Or like the “lightbulb” moments: A character locates improbable solutions in everyday life. A scientist sees plastic waste on the street and conceptualizes a biodegradable, lighter satellite. Another notices boat-sails stitched into her cushions and decides to re-design the wings of the satellite. Another applies the home science of frying puris to extend the fuel plan of the rocket. It’s only a matter of time before we see a scientist on the toilet getting an idea about sending fresh manure to the moon to test its surface fertility.

We get it. It’s hard to make intelligence look entertaining. But it’s harder to make intelligence look stupid. And yet, this is exactly what Mission Mangal manages to do. It takes the core ISRO team behind India’s historical Mars Orbiter Mission and turns their incredible story into a tone-deaf cross between a fourth-grade Science lesson and a woke virtue-signalling exercise. I’m all for massy dramatization, but this film is more like intellectual demonetization.

The tragedy about such movies is that a story so rare can be told for the first time only once. Most makers waste this privilege. To put it mildly, the fault is in the stars of Mission Mangal

It begins with project head Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan) messing up an important launch in 2010. Her nutty boss, Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar), takes the fall for her and is banished to the ‘graveyard project’ of ISRO: The Mars Mission. Tara inspires Rakesh with her puri idea, and they begin to recruit a team and defy cynics to make India the first country to reach Mars on the first attempt. Before I go further, it’s worth noting that R. Balki is credited as the writer and creative director of Mission Mangal. This is useful information for what will follow.

A prominent ad-man, Balki has fashioned a Bollywood career out of merging his two passions: advertising and filmmaking. His early movies can be distilled down to one-line concepts (Cheeni Kum, Paa, Shamitabh, Ki & Ka). But his most recent work (Pad Man, Mission Mangal) is based on real-life visionaries. There is no scope for gimmicky ideas. And so it’s the characters in these stories that become glorified taglines. Almost every scene is played for a social gimmick. Tara is introduced as a poha-cooking house-maker (she uses a rolling pin to squeeze out the last drops of toothpaste) before she drives to work and heads a major space mission. Tagline: The Complete Indian Woman. Her husband Sunil (Sanjay Kapoor) resents her “double life” and yells at everyone. Tagline: Chauvinist Ripe For Humble Pie. A NASA bigshot named Rupert Desai (a most Shakespearean Dalip Tahil) is hired by ISRO solely to scoff at Rakesh’s homegrown theories and terrible cricket metaphors (Can we get over ‘83?) in a desi-American accent. Tagline: Snobbish Film Critic Who Mocks The Excesses Of Masala Movies.

Mission Mangal takes the core ISRO team behind India’s historical Mars Orbiter Mission and turns their incredible story into a tone-deaf cross between a fourth-grade Science lesson and a woke virtue-signalling exercise

The members of the mission are one-line ads too: Strong And Independent Muslim Divorcee (Kirti Kulhari), Clutzy Girl Who Can’t Drive Car But Can Design Spaceship (Taapsee Pannu), Independent And Unapologetic Girl Because She Smokes And Sleeps Around (Sonakshi Sinha), Meek South Indian Woman Aching For Motherhood (Nithya Menen), Virginal Loser (Sharman Joshi), Old Grumpy Man (H.G. Dattatreya). Even the Mars department can best be described as Ugly Brown Dilapidated Mansion In ISRO Backyard.

Sample some of the ‘unorthodox’ scenes. Tara wants to inspire her team to work 15 hours a day, so she brings in a cake and declares that “it’s the birthday of the scientist in all of us”. (Tagline: What An Idea, Sirjee!). Each of them is encouraged to think about the moment they decided to become a scientist – the old man flashes back to his childhood when he lit four rockets without using his hands, and naturally, the Muslim girl recalls a memory that features a mosque, a crescent moon and kheer being fed to her. The next thing you know, they are dancing with brooms to a song called “Dil mein Mars hai” to renovate the abandoned mansion into a swanky science-looking (read white) center. In another scene, to prove that she is a responsible mother, Tara drags a livid Sunil to the night-club in which their daughter is partying. The two parents do tequila shots and hit the dance-floor, where it becomes apparent that this entire sequence of misguided liberalism was engineered only to have Sanjay Kapoor shake a leg to his own ‘90s classic “Ankhiya Milau Kabhi” from Raja. This transforms him to a supportive husband, just like cake transforms the team. In yet another scene, the filmmakers subvert the macho Khiladi Kumar image by making him a drunken wuss who is rescued by his ‘army’ of women on a late-night metro. I’d appreciate the meta-ness, but there’s something horribly smug about the in-your-face posturing (“It’s good our mission is called MOM; the name DAD would have caused a crash”). At one point, Rakesh ghost-chats with the late Abdul Kalam so that he can deliver a pep talk about percentages and miracles. Even the quirks are pretentious: Tara’s teenage son is an aspiring Muslim because his idol A.R. Rahman converted to Islam.

Instead of surrounding the scientists with commoners so that they have an excuse to dumb down the technicalities, the scientists here speak to each other in downright-dumb terms

Another problem with films about smart people is the grammar of exposition. Instead of surrounding the scientists with commoners so that they have an excuse to dumb down the technicalities, the scientists here speak to each other in downright-dumb terms. You have the chairman of ISRO asking Rakesh if the weather is bad only so that we know the consequences of rain on take-off. You have them discussing the budget in front of everyone. You have them explaining gravity and space to each other like teachers to children. Even the actual mission is clumsily designed, and borrows heavily from the suspense of Apollo 13.

The tragedy about such movies is that a story so rare can be told for the first time only once. Most makers waste this privilege. To put it mildly, the fault is in the stars of Mission Mangal. My only takeaway is a bit personal. My childhood neighbour was listed in the end credits as one of the mission’s chief architects. Tagline: Writer Taking Credit For Unknowingly Inspiring ISRO Scientist With Pointless Anecdote.
Star Cast: Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, Kirti Kulhari, Nithya Menon, Sharman Joshi, Sanjay Kapoor, H. G. Dattatreya

Director: Jagan Shakti

Mission Mangal Movie Review: Should've Been Titled As 'Missin Mangal'
Mission Mangal Movie Review: Should’ve Been Titled As ‘Missin Mangal’
What’s Good: Few brilliant sequences reminding of what this could’ve been, informing about a mission that should be known to every Indian

What’s Bad: Script takes the subject for granted, in order to offer entertainment makers lose the true essence!

Loo Break: Just return when the satellite finally takes off for Mars, i.e. last 10 minutes!

Watch or Not?: Only if you can bear an entire film just for few good portions

User Rating:

Based on the ‘Mars Orbiter Mission’ or Mangalyaan (because, as per this film, ISRO’s Director wanted a ‘wazandaar/heavy’ name to it), the story starts with a failed mission because of which Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) gets transferred to Mars’ department. There are no people in this department because they think achieving Mars is impossible, hence it’s an isolated dusty room with just a Cat in it. Tara joins Rakesh for Mission Mars as she blames herself for the failure of last mission.

Head of all the flagship missions gets changed to Rupert Desai (Dalip Tahil), an ex-NASA scientist, questioning everything done by Rakesh. Somehow, Tara convinces ISRO’S director to back Rakesh for Mar’s mission, and they build a team of underdogs (because so new). Everyone knows the mission was accomplished, but the rest of the story depicts how these underdogs achieve the impossible.

Mission Mangal Movie Review: Should've Been Titled As 'Missin Mangal' 

So, the skeleton of the script is age-old – take one impossible task, add some underdogs, add few irrelevant obstacles, make sure they achieve the mission. Before bashing me stating that this is what happened, movies like PadMan, Special 26 in Bollywood and First Man, The Founder in Hollywood also are based on true events. This script required 4 people, R. Balki, Jagan Shakti, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi to collaborate? I guess each one was hired to think about a personal issue they can give to each character’s life.

A friend, after the film, told me, “We shouldn’t criticize it much because it informs us about such an important achievement,” and I told her, “That’s the same reason, why I’ll not praise it more than it deserves.” It’s undoubtedly an unimaginable achievement by India but if you’re making a film on it, please don’t cringe it with ‘puri examples’, ‘switch off/on device’s connection with the satellite’s communication’. It slips flat on its face turning the patriotism to jingoism, and there are many instances such as that.

Mission Mangal Movie Review: Star Performance

The spec-clad, with a hint of White frizzies, Akshay Kumar’s Rakesh Dhawan is impressive. He manages to underplay the character and succeeds living up to R. Balki’s sly sense of humour. Vidya Balan, as always, is natural. Her charming presence and the command of playing with her expressions, make her a delight to watch.

The super-confident Sonakshi Sinha gets the least cringe, as her character is well-written. She performs it with essential ease, which helps to connect with her. Taapsee Pannu has very little to add to the script. I can’t see someone like her getting exhausted, she deserves to rule the screen. Nithya Menen and Sharman Joshi are wasted on a supreme level. We all know what they both are capable doing of, but yet again, they’re the victims of lazy writing.

H. G. Dattatreya is a fun actor to watch, makers could’ve used him to maintain the humour but that doesn’t happen. Kirti Kulhari, too, barely has any contribution in making the script interesting. She’s just there, like many others (including us).

Mission Mangal Movie Review: Direction, Music

Jagan Shakti manages to steer the ship clear but he loses the way of where it’s going. From the production design to cinematography, everything gives an appealing touch. But the movie is weak at the story level, and hence it finds very difficult to grab the attention.

Amit Trivedi has composed two songs for the film. I didn’t mind both of them, ‘Dil Mein Mars Hai’ and ‘Shaabashiyaan’. Even the background score blends in very well with the situations in the film.

Mission Mangal Movie Review: The Last Word
All said and done, the movie depicts a mission showcasing an achievement with a very predictable storyline. It fails to hold on to what was important for the script, instead includes irrelevant sub-plots dragging the narrative.

Two and a half stars!

Mission Mangal releases on 15th August, 2019.

Share with us your experience of watching Mission Mangal.
The real-life story of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission which made Mars more accessible to explore.

Aug 15, 2019 ( India)

Akshay Kumar
Vidya Balan
Sonakshi Sinha
Taapsee Pannu
Nithya Menen
Sharman Joshi
Kirti Kulhari
Vikram Gokhale

Jagan Shakti

Cape of Good Films
Hope Productions
Fox Star Studios
Aruna Bhatia
Anil Naidu 

Run Time: 2 hour 7 Minutes
Mission Mangal Movie Review: Akshay Kumar brings obvious star power Mission Mangal Movie Review: Akshay Kumar brings obvious star power Reviewed by Walliam Marry on 12:47 AM Rating: 5

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