Parmanu review: Nothing explosive about this

The Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 were a success and John Abraham is as expressive as a plank. Neither of this comes as a surprise in Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran.

But the degree of drama it cooks up to make a strategic mission look like a high-pitched exercise in desh bhakti is unbelievable.

Twenty years ago, when India conducted three thermo-nuclear tests near the Pokhran test range in Rajasthan on May 11, 1998 under then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s approval, it was a hugely contentious decision.

If the global superpowers frowned at what they saw as an act of defiance, locals were divided over welcoming India’s bold move to break into the nuclear monopoly and assert its place in the world or mull over its ethical repercussions.

On the most basic level, the general sentiment remained — this is my country and nobody tells me how to run it.

Parmanu opens with a A P J Kalam quote, ‘Unless India stands up to the world no one will respect us. In this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength.’

John Abraham’s Ashwat Raina, an IIT-educated IAS officer working at the PMO’s office, echoes Kalam’s views and in a clumsily constructed scene, occupied by pakoda-pouncing bureaucrats, bursts into an impassioned appeal to make some noise for the desi boys.

The hawkish fella heading the meeting snaps back, ‘Speech mat do, file banao.’ Like most sarkari paperwork, it does no good, mission bomb-testing is a fiasco and Raina the fall guy.

Three years of expository dialogues, tutions and stressful domestic life in Mussoorie later, Raina is back on board by the blessings of Boman Irani (crackling as usual) and a brand new government commanding a classified operation of scientists, soldiers and engineers in remote Pokhran.

Of this team, only Yogendra Tiku’s scattebrained skills and Diana Penty’s out-of-place glamour gather notice.

Parmanu focuses so much on Abraham’s deadpan gusto, the crucial supporting characters end up getting the short end of the stick.

The true events inspiring director Abhishek Sharma’s script are fairly fascinating if not exactly cinematic. But the problem is Sharma cannot figure out how to distinguish its dangers and drama from typical Bollywood tropes.

Its plan of action is no different than a heist movie with characters strutting in slow motion against a wide backdrop to the beats of loud, imposing music. There’s just no tonal distinction, the kind that, for example, lend Airlift‘s verbally communicated urgency of a chaotic political situation its aggressive edge. None of Abraham’s critically acclaimed production, Madras Cafe‘s sharpness or visual finesse either. 

We know what’s up on screen is significant because we already do. Parmanu bears no element of surprise, slyness, style or smarts to suggest this is history in the making. All its efforts to look authentic and squeeze in actual footage are ultimately superficial. But Parmanu‘s propensity for contrivances is even more troubling.

An evil-minded American and Pakistani attempt to sabotage India’s nuclear dream repeatedly like it’s a piece of cake.

Sharma’s heavy-handed direction and failure to mount the tension coupled with laughable episodes of poorly timed marital confusion only dilutes whatever novelty it carries.

What’s even more embarrassing is that the humour cannot decide if it’s intended or accidental.

Laziness shrouds every aspect of this dull drama. Parmanu throws in a bulky cell phone and floppy disc to suggest its 1998, but bungles up the most obvious details.

Abraham’s son doesn’t grow up at all in three years, cropped salwars were certainly not in trend and nobody texted on their mobiles the way Penty is in one scene.

Parmanu can scream ‘desh‘ all it wants and turn up the volume as loud as it likes to make a big deal. But it’s ultimately a cursory glance at a tough tactical choice and tame recreation of a controversial reality whose face is a stiff star.

Rating: 2/5

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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