Movie director: Jagan Shakti
Story: A team of Indian scientists at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) take on the extraordinary task of successfully sending a satellite into the orbit of planet Mars in a country's maiden attempt.
Review: A dream doesn't become reality through magic, it takes sweat, determination and hard work to make it come true. That's what Indian scientists at ISRO have gone through for the past five decades, leaving behind their personal lives, making their families second priority and propelling themselves into a pursuit of scientific achievement. One of the glorious chapters in their success story was the 2014 Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), more popularly called the Mangalyaan Mission. Against all odds, India became the first country in the world to break many space and Earth barriers and reach the distant planet in its first attempt. 'Mission Mangal' is a film that dramatises and recreates this glorious chapter in Indian history. This deeply patriotic film takes a few cinematic liberties along the way, while doing that, it delves into the lives of the scientists who made this almost-impossible dream come true. The film throws light on how scientists who go through the humdrum of everyday life, when at work they show grit, gumption and tremendous drive to achieve the unthinkable. The focuss on human drama is endearing, but we would have like to see more action happening at ISRO, which we know very little of.
The story picks up in 2010, when a team at ISRO is led by Rakesh (Akshay Kumar) as they launch a rocket into outer space. But that launch mission ends up in unexpected failure when a technical error forces the rocket to veer towards earth. The ill-fated error happens under the watchful eye of one of the mission directors Tara (Vidya Balan), but during the media-fuelled fiasco later on, Rakesh takes the blame for it. As a result, Rakesh is assigned to the far-fetched Mars Mission at ISRO, which other scientists at the organisation believes is nothing but a flight of fancy. But, the patriotic Rakesh and the industrious Tara decide to fight the odds and put India on the space map, again. Dealing with minuscule budgets, scrutiny from their peers and pressure from all quarters Rakesh and Tara, make a team of junior scientists from ISRO with the intention of putting the Mars Mission into space within 24 months.
Writer-director Jagan Shakti's film takes complex scientific jargon and simplifies it for the common man. The narrative also cleverly makes use of logic, home science and alternate science to add quirky entertainment into the mix. The storytelling is backed by solid characters in the MOM team, who have scientifically thought out solutions for their real-life problems, too. MOM's team comprises of five strong women Tara, Eka (Sonakshi Sinha), Neha (Kirti Kulhari), Kritika (Taapsee Pannu) and Varsha (Nithya Menen) who wrack their brains and come up with innovative, low-cost solutions for the Mars mission. Part of the same team are Parmeshwar (Sharma Joshi) and Ananth (HG Dattatreya).
Moments of heightened drama in the screenplay are tailor-made to please the audience, especially those who don't have a knack for theories, equations and numbers. Mission Mangal simplifies its complex subject so that viewers of all ages and backgrounds can engage with the story and the characters. On the flipside, the simplicity does get a bit too convenient on more than one occasion. The narrative could have focused more on the nuances of the mission and the authenticity of the mission control at ISRO. At times, the characters get a bit over-the-top and then on occasions the screenplay gets a bit pedantic. Even the CGI is pretty average. But then, the feeling of patriotism and national pride does eclipse the minor pitfalls of this mission.
The performances by the ensemble cast are strong. Akshay Kumar leads the cast with Vidya Balan as the parallel lead. Both actors team up to give measured and engaging performances as scientists who give their heart and soul to realise India's dream of being a big player in the international space race. They are ably supported by Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Nithya Menen. Their team also has Sharman Joshi and senior actor HG Dattatreya, who bring in some moments of levity to the drama. Sanjay Kapoor in a brief cameo, looks outrageous at best. Dalip Tahil, who plays the NASA-return scientist with a half-American half-Indian accent doles out more laughs than advice for the other characters.
Under the vision of creative director R Balki and an average execution by filmmaker Jagan Shakti, 'Mission Mangal' makes good with its emotional highs and drama. In the end, when you see India's scientists celebrate their hard-earned victory with the Mangalyaan orbiting Mars, you can't help but cheer for the triumph of a nation and its scientific success. Despite the ups and downs, this story does make you believe that dreams do come true, especially in the vast expanses of the outer space.