My first foray with movies about space and space exploration were mostly more science-fiction than science. There was Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, A Trip to the Moon, Independence Day and more. It wasn’t until 1995’s Apollo 13 that I started to truly understand the effort that’s needed to become an astronaut. And it was First Man that gave me a peek into the people underneath that helmet. So, I was craving for some Indian representation and that’s when Mission Mangal arrived to give the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) the attention, via the big screen, that it deserved.
Mission Mangal is based on the real life mission conducted by ISRO, called Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), where a satellite was placed in Mars’ orbit to research the Martian surface. It stars Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Nithya Menen, Sharman Joshi, Kirti Kulhari, Vikram Gokhale, Dalip Tahil, Sanjay Kapoor, and features cameos from Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Purab Kohli. The movie is directed by Jagan Shakti and written by R. Balki, Jagan Shakti, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi. Its music is by Amit Trivedi and Tanishk Bagchi and shot by Ravi Varman. However, the real question is that does the movie reach the heights that MOM did?
How is the writing by R. Balki, Jagan Shakti, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi?
The short answer to the above mentioned question will be that it is absolutely trash. But let’s dig a little deeper so as to understand what does and doesn’t work about the script. The movie begins with Balan’s Tara Shinde getting ready for office, highlighting the stark difference between a father getting ready to do his duty versus a mother getting ready to do her duty. Then the focus shifts to ISRO where we meet the ‘eccentric’ Rakesh Dhawan who leads the GSLV Fat Boy into the Bay of Bengal, thereby bringing the protagonists to rock bottom even before their journey to Mars began.
From a narrative point-of-view, that is a good point to start a movie because it allows the characters to be vulnerable and build themselves up as a human being along with the mission in hand. However, this huge team of writers spends all that time in arbitrary domestic topics that never factor into the central plot. It loosely ties into the theme of persevering in life despite great odds. But as the approach towards establishing that theme is so ham-fisted and over-the-top that the humane aspect loses authenticity and becomes borderline caricaturish.
Talking about ‘caricaturish’, the dialogue writing is atrocious. I don’t know if the writers have heard real people (or, to be specific, scientists) talk. But they surely need to if they want to continue making more movies. In my opinion, the movie would’ve been significantly terrible if the writers would’ve redirected their ability to crack good jokes towards crafting lines that didn’t sound like bhashans.
How is the direction by Jagan Shakti and editing by Chandan Arora?
Despite sitting through 2 hours and 10 minutes of Mission Mangal, I have no idea the kind of story that Shakti was trying to tell. Simply put, it was all over the place. By the looks of it he didn’t even try to instill an inkling of realism into the movie that’s about one of the most ambitious missions performed in India. In addition to that, where MOM used all kinds of scientific techniques to do the impossible, Shakti didn’t even attempt to experiment with his shot selection or visual storytelling, thereby further exposing the flaws in the script.
Furthermore, I can’t imagine how as a creative person Shakti allowed such atrocious CGI to be shown on screen. I was afraid that it would be an issue after watching the trailers and promotional material. But I didn’t think it would be this painful. Some of the wide shots of the rocket-launching sequences are passable. However, as soon as they switch to close-ups of the rockets, Mission Mangal becomes a nightmare. Apart from the shot of the satellite orbiting Mars the worst offender is the water in the Bay of Bengal. It’s somehow worse the water in the crash landing scene in Air Force One, which BTW came out in 1997!
But if I’ve to single out the biggest (and I do mean biggest) problem in the movie, it’s got to be the editing. It’s highly probable that Arora was trying to cut back and forth between the characters to increase the intensity of a scene. But little did he know that the only thing he was doing was increasing my headache. Not just that. He chose to leave in some absolutely stupid lines of dialogue and scenes that only deteriorated the already dwindling cohesiveness of the plot. If it was up to me, Mission Mangal would surely win the award for the worst editing in a feature film released in 2019.
How is the acting by Akshay Kumar and his team?
Let me state a pretty simple fact first. The ensemble cast of Kumar, Balan, Pannu, Kulhari, Joshi, Menen, Tahil, Kapoor and Gokhale are extremely talented. And if they’re given a good script and placed under a good director, they can do wonders. But they’re able to do none of that here. They’re made to chew through scene-after-scene of exposition or deliver reaction shots that do little-to-nothing to make the movie interesting. And before you come at me with pitchforks and knives, let me clarify that that doesn’t mean that the mission or the real people who conducted the mission are uninteresting.
Every single one of the actor’s on-screen could’ve done what they did in Mission Mangal in their sleep. If you go and watch their solo movies, I am pretty sure you’ll get what I am saying. And after viewing Tahil’s audacious performance as a character who doesn’t want the Mars department to succeed, I can only pray that the cheque had a lot of zeroes. However, do you know what’s the worst thing? The worst thing is that, probably, such a great crop of actors won’t be cast in a movie together in the near future and the only time that it did happen has been wasted for no reason.
Mission Mangal tells the story of one of the most ambitious missions attempted in India. However, it is marred by juvenile writing, over-dramatisation of every plot point and jarring editing. Hopefully, down the line, somebody will truly research and understand the humanity and technicality of conducting such impossible missions in a country like India and accurately portray it on the big screen. Because for now, while MOM was a huge success, Mission Mangal is an example of a cinematic takeoff gone wrong.