Rocket Science For Dummies
When there are budget problems in the Mars Orbiter Mission undertaken by an ISRO scientist on a dare — because a NASA snob said it couldn’t be done– a woman scientist suggests that they use equipment from another project that is on hold. “Why waste, na?” she says. To which her male colleague comments that women turn leftovers from dinner into breakfast, because, why waste? Their superior quips, “You women can’t tell the difference between home science and space science?”
Jagan Shakti’s Mission Mangal constantly condescends to women, and has a laughably slapdash attitude to space science. However, the producers and the director know that a majority of Indians may not understand science, but they get ‘jugaad;’ so push the patriotic buttons, add some phony woman power, lots of humour, turn the outsider into a villain, and this rocket will reach Mars… and beyond.
Underneath all the scientific jargon and gleaming gizmos, Mission Mangal is the always appealing story of the fighter, who, when told that something is impossible, wants to prove the naysayers wrong. Never mind that the film turns the real Mangalyaan mission (by the Indian Space Research Organisation) into a kind of game, the fact remains that India was the first Asian nation to have a satellite reach the Martian orbit, the first to do it in one attempt and at a very low cost. Of course, the story deserved a movie– even though it seems to have been inspired by the Hollywood film Hidden Figures, about a group of black women who worked on the US space programme.
Akshay Kumar plays Rakesh Dhawan, the never-say-never space scientist, who, along with Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan—who gets the best-written part and beings dignity to the silly bits!), takes on the challenge of the Mars Orbiter Mission, without accepting help from any foreign agency. (“For us NASA will become satyanasa!”)
Rupert Desai (Dalip Tahil), a US-returned NASA scientist of Indian origin, discourages him, and to stymie the project sends a bunch of junior scientists– four women (hence inferior!) a superstitious bachelor, plus one old guy (H.G. Dattatreya) on the verge of retirement. With the budget slashed to half, the team has to find low cost and workable solutions to every problem.
They are trained scientists and engineers (inspired by Star Wars, comics and the Eid moon!), but ideas strike in an ad hoc fashion, while frying puris, or from a design on a cushion cover– there are dozens of these ‘facepalm’ moments. The women are given rather pedestrian back stories– Tara has a nagging husband (Sanjay Kapoor) and rebellious kids, because she is “never home”, Neha Siddiqui (Kirti Kulhari) can’t find a place to stay because she is Muslim and a divorcee, Kritika Agarwal (Taapsee Pannu) has a wounded soldier at home and an exasperated driving instructor, who can’t get her to learn; Eka Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha) is the ambitious, free-spirited single women; Varsha Pillai (Nithya Menen) has a grumbling mother-in-law and gets pregnant while the mission is on to silence her; Parmeshwar Naidu (Sharman Joshi) is the desperate bachelor who is told to stay away from Mars.
In the midst of all the deadline drama, they actually get time to paint their lab and dance to the catchy ‘Dil mein mars hai’ song.
It’s a comic book take on the successful space mission, with competent performers, which is probably why it will work with audiences; plus these days Akshay Kumar can do no wrong!