The Mission Mangal review

An apple fell on Newton’s head, Archimedes stepped inside a bathtub and Vidya Balan fries puris to make an important breakthrough in science. 

Science is vast and complicated but it’s also straightforward and right in front of us. Sometimes simplifying something of significance is the only way to make a layman see what a great man envisions.  

Mission Mangal has its heart in place, if not all of its science — home or rocket.

On September 24, 2014, India became the first country to place its space probe in orbit around Mars in its maiden attempt. Carried out at a fraction of NASA’s budget for the same endeavour, it’s a classic underdog story of a growing nation racing ahead of well-established superpowers.  

Recognising the potential for patriotic fervour in its interplanetary exploration, director Jagan Shakti’s Mission Mangal opens with a lengthy disclaimer stressing it’s a work of fiction that liberally dramatises organisations, professionals, timelines and scientific procedures for the sake of entertainment.  

Considering it’s a mostly behind-the-scenes premise and nobody actually puts on a spacesuit to journey into the unknown, Shakti tries to make Mangalyaan’s nerdy content and technical jargon more accessible and action-packed for a clueless audience through simplistic car/cricket/cooking analogies and reliable Bollywood tropes.

What comes forth is a crowd-pleasing shuddh desi space drama-for-dummies likely to make the brilliant minds at Indian Space Research Organisation squirm in their seats. 

Between scenes of pandits conducting pujas right before rocket launches, miraculous shift of weather and moments of palat-inspired suspense as a spacecraft orbits around Mars, Mission Mangal whips up abundant contrivances to balance a mood of adversity and perseverance.

In the absence of genuine conflict, the script falls on tried-and-tested hiccups like the highbrow senior and his inexplicable ego, shortage of funds and good ol’ bad weather.  

 

It’s when Mission Mangal becomes a little more about the people putting it all together that you feel invested in their sky-high dreams. 

Akshay Kumar as the Mars mission director appears secure and graceful as the leader of a ragtag team. Except the movie cannot decide whether it wants to exaggerate his professional magnanimity, build on the eccentric mad genius imagery or play up his trademark nationalism.

Despite the ambiguity, it’s fun to watch the actor who once threatened ‘Don’t angry me’ instruct ‘Fire maximum thrusters.’  

Mission Mangal’s reverence for Indian scientists and intuitions is touching.

But Akshay’s mock telephonic conversation with celebrated scientist and former president Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, where he uses the same founder fawning funda Anushka Sharma employed as a self-made businessman in Band Baaja Baaraat, to fund his project is an exercise in overkill.  

Though he hogs the movie’s poster, Mission Mangal’s biggest takeaway is Vidya Balan’s ingenious wonder woman. Her Sulu spirit colours much of the story’s idealism and pursuits as she juggles her job and home sans any melodrama.  

Married to a man-child (Sanjay Kapoor humanising an unlikeable character and bringing the house down in an unexpected nod to his retro Raja days) incapable of sharing household or parenting responsibility, she shows remarkable patience in her approach and resolve.

How she tactfully changes a conversation about herself to convey words of wisdom to her son or turns the tables on her husband over chilled beer reveal yet another facet of Balan’s self-assured performer. She’s a treat to watch!

As are Mission Mangal’s other women in mogras and handloom saris. Though confined in one-dimensional, stereotypical characterisation, the spunky ladies give it their best shot. Nithya Menen’s gift for compact designing is flaunted across Murphy beds and portable furniture. Pregnancy doesn’t need to interfere with professionalism is her agenda.  Klutzy Taapsee Pannu learns a thing or two about duty first from her Army husband. How to be a better half is highlighted in Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub’s compelling cameo.  Kirti Kulhari pitches in as the divorced Muslim woman struggling to find rental accommodation through a sensitivity we now associate with her.  

Cool girl engaging in casual sex and eager to fly out to the US is Sonakshi Sinha’s plan — although her vanity makes it hard to say if she’s looking forward to work in NASA or Neiman Marcus.  There’s also the ISRO virgin, astrology-addict Sharman Joshi, an extension of his character in 3 Idiots, making jokes about it — Naam mein Gandhi aur kaam mein Quit India. His virginity and rocket launch metaphors could not be less subtle. Throw in a sexagenarian (a terrific H G Dattatreya) to the proceedings and old is gold to go.  

Providing extreme resistance to their mission is hammy Dalip Tahil’s snooty NASA-returned bigwig. He’s an elitist buffoon, hell-bent on discrediting Akshay’s project. What you’ll mostly notice though is how his fake American accent can give Priyanka Chopra’s a run for its money.  

NASA is Rajput to ISRO’s Model School wherein Mission Mangal manipulates chronology, like the racist New York Times cartoon deriding India’s feat after it accomplished its Mars mission, to make it a trigger point.  

When not breaking into silly office renovation dances, Akshay and Co ooze sincerity to the brim.  Mission Mangal makes a case for working moms, expecting moms, supportive spouses, independent women, against Islamophobia as well as extending agency to women, encouraging senior citizen participation and an inclusive, safe working environment. Decent, righteous, progressive, the men are eager to play second fiddle whereas the women don’t cry their feminism hoarse.

It’s an impeccable if calculated scenario whose love for speeches, including one from Prime Minister Narendra Modi at its end, reminds us Earth might be a foregone conclusion but we’ll always have Mars.  

This review was first published on rediff.com.

Share on TumblrSubmit to reddit+1Digg ThisPin it on PinterestShare on LinkedIn
Posted in Columns & Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jabariya Jodi review

The last time Sidharth Malhotra and Parineeti Chopra came together on screen, it started with their childhood and ended in crashing a wedding. The duo follows the exact same sequence. Only Jabariya Jodi is not even a fraction as fun or endearing as Hasee Toh Phasee.  After 143 minutes and 30 excruciating seconds, I’m not sure what it’s about. 

Is it a parody on the practice of kidnapping grooms and forcing them to marry at gunpoint in Bihar?  

Is it an attempt to drive home the idea of consent or a take-down on the evils of dowry?  

Is it a lesson in Indian parenting and the side effects of social conditioning?  

Is it a duel between toxic masculinity and perfunctory feminism?

Is it a tutorial in shoddy editing? 

Is it a test to see just how gaudy and garish outfits Sidharth and Parineeti can pull off without damaging the viewer’s eye? 

Is it a lavish exercise in proving how Bollywood loves to spend on weddings that almost never take place?

Jabariya Jodi’s haphazard structure and misplaced enthusiasm allows it to be multiple things yet lead to nothing. As a consequence, it’s you who feels held hostage and forced to experience a script that neither has the wit to satirise a prevalent issue nor the sense to focus at the problem on hand. 

Directed by Prashant Singh, Jabariya Jodi spends bulk of its boisterous energy on repeatedly reminding us that it is set in Bihar where bizarre occurrences are as commonplace as the sight of litti chokha, posters that read Ee Na Ho Sake (dubbed Mission Impossible) and Murgh Donald (desi McDonalds).  

For all its emphasis on accent and eccentricity though, the milieu seems more akin to a Rohit Shetty set what with more candy hues than you’ll even see in a Pappabubble store. 

Babli Yadav (Parineeti Chopra) and Abhay Singh (Sidharth Malhotra) happen to be childhood sweethearts. (What’s with Sidharth (Baar Baar Dekho) and Parineeti (Meri Pyaari Bindi) and bachpan ka pyaar anyway?)

Engaged in a never-ending game of ‘she loves him he loves her not, he loves her she loves him not,’ here’s an age-old indecision that could be resolved in five minutes if not for Jabariya Jodi’s objective to prolong our misery by forcing senseless conflict. 

Abhay’s groom-lifting business as a countermeasure to dowry demands is never really an act of desperate times call for desperate measures. These guys do not respect women yet make money and live in mansions by claiming to do ‘punya ka kaam’ by offering brides unenthusiastic life partners. Jabariya Jodi’s skewed ethics are deeply puzzling. The retribution offered by its so-called ‘krantikari’ woman is equally weird.

When the climax questions its earlier actions, the remorse feels cosmetic, unconvincing.     

Babli and Abhay teeter-totter between rebound, rebellion, rejection, revenge, political ambitions and daddy issues, adding to their confusion and our exasperation — the writing (Sanjeev K Jha) is all over the place worsened by sloppy editing (Ritesh Soni), which takes pleasure in dragging the mess.   

Though the dialogues pack punch — like that lovely bit about the thin line between fear and respect in some relationships — Jabariya Jodi’s jumbled setup fails to offer its characters any significance or spunky takeaway.  

Singh ropes in a solid supporting cast — Javed Jaffrey, Sanjay Mishra, Aparshakti Khurana, Sheeba Chaddha, Chandan Roy Sanyal and Sharad Kapoor — but confines them in one-note characterisations to fully dazzle. Sidharth and Parineeti have an easy chemistry but they’re out of depth in parts that ask for more substance than sheen. 

Between an earnest Sidharth channelling Mithun Chakraborty’s dancing expressions to appear uninhibited and good-natured Parineeti showing off her red highlights in what seems to be a tribute to cousin Priyanka’s hair colour in Love Story 2050, Jabariya Jodi constantly confuses tacky as terrific.  

This review was first published on rediff.com.

Share on TumblrSubmit to reddit+1Digg ThisPin it on PinterestShare on LinkedIn
Posted in Columns & Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Khandaani Shafakhana review

What sounds like a heavy-duty title of a Muslim social could well be called Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby. Khandaani Shafakhana’s aspiration to bring sex out in the open through its protagonist Baby Bedi’s efforts at running a sex clinic in a prudish small town is all very noble. But director Shilpi Dasgupta’s flimsy storytelling and comic timing of a subject, in the same space as Vicky Donor and Shubh Mangal Savdhan, neither enlightens nor entertains.  

Though it gets the milieu down pat, Khandaani Shafakhana is so spectacularly conscious of what it is about that it forgets what it needs to be. Nearly half of its running time is spent feeling awkward about the elephant in the room or what it wants to address.

Even that would be quite hilarious had writer Gautam Mehra got his zingers in place and wasn’t simply relying on his actors’ comfort in comedy (Annu Kapoor, Rajesh Sharma, Varun Sharma) to auto-translate into comedy by itself. 

Between visual gags — bottle of sperm cutting to a dollop of ghee splashed on a paratha and broken English innuendoes ‘make dry wet’ and a farcical courtroom third act, Khandaani Shafakhana can never find its groove. 

 

It all begins after Baby Bedi (Sonakshi Sinha), a medical representative in a pharmaceutical company and the sole breadwinner of her family, inherits her uncle’s sex clinic after his sudden demise. Just like the beneficiaries of Maalamaal and The Bachelor before her, Baby must fulfil a strange condition before she can avail this Godsent will.

Basically, said uncle, a hakim and expert of Unani medicine (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) — previously fired by a prissy medical institute for advertising his cures for sexual ailments — has instructed her to run the clinic for six months until she can sell it off. If unable to do so, the clinic will become the aforementioned institute’s property. 

Once Khandaani Shafakhana has crossed all limits of benefit-of-doubt, the extent of its contrivance and hollow virtue hit hard and irreversibly. Forget tears, Baby has no reaction on learning about her uncle’s death. It’s like they’re not even related.

Almost as an afterthought to convince us otherwise, Dasgupta tosses in a couple of half-hearted flashbacks from her childhood to suggest Baby’s attachment to the man and why she might want to follow his footsteps.  

Let’s not even get into the irresponsible rationale fuelling its ‘chosen one’ ardour that treats an unqualified practitioner like some inborn healer, randomly developing a gift for diagnosing an individual’s medical disorder by looking at their face, a la Juliette Binoche’s chocolatier in Chocolat.

A similarly scowling, stuffy saviour of social mores like Alfred Molina’s stops Baby from making headway.  Here also, Khandaani Shafakhana shows its inadequacy by embracing the same tone of discrimination it pretends to overcome.

Funny how Baby encourages people to conquer their discomfort over certain ailments but is quick to embarrass another by using his medical problem as an insult. (Hey Ayushmann Khurrana, how about a movie on the stigma of piles next?)   

In another show of the film’s two-faced disposition, Baby’s slacker brother (a predictably droll Varun Sharma) cracks a homophobic joke only to retract it with token ‘wokeness.’  

And because it all happens at a snail’s pace, Khandaani Shafakhana’s flaws appear all the more glaring, especially its tendency to build on multiple sub-plots and offer little to no takeaway. Like the one involving Baby’s mum (Nadira Babbar, a master of Mrs Bennet mode) put off by her liberal ideals but turning a blind eye to her humiliation by one daughter’s in-laws and only son’s good-for-nothingness.

Or when life throws a lemonade maker (Priyansh Jore) at Baby. Or a star rapper’s (Badshah) not so larger-than-life reality followed by a bizarre change of heart. 

Hard to say if Badshah’s showy presence provides intended or unintentional chuckles but any day vague comic relief over Sonakshi Sinha’s excessive frowning in a role that’s crying for the wit and wonderment of the 1990s Juhi Chawla.  

With so many maladies plaguing the movie, it’s too bad there’s nothing like a scriptwriting Shafakhana.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

Share on TumblrSubmit to reddit+1Digg ThisPin it on PinterestShare on LinkedIn
Posted in Columns & Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment