Mumbai, 25 May 2018 10:07 IST
Director Abhishek Sharma makes an impressive attempt at retelling the past through a film on one of the most crucial moments in India's recent history.
How does one compress one of India's most covert and strategically important operations into a span of 2 hours and 10 minutes?
Abhishek Sharma's Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran tells the tale of the scientists and engineers who came together to help India step over the threshold and become a nuclear state.
While it might not have the same scale or impact as the tests themselves, Sharma's film manages to entertain and convince the audience of the effort and pride involved in the operation.
The story revolves around Ashwat Raina (John Abraham), who puts in the idea of conducting nuclear tests for the Indian government. Though the bureaucracy foils his plan the first time around, the change in government (ode to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's regime) allows him another chance. So, he sets up his own 'Pandavas' (Diana Penty, Yogendra Tikku, Aditya Hitkari, Darshan Pandey and Vikas Kumar) for the mission of conducting six nuclear tests within a month.
With the CIA and the ISI keeping a hawk's eye on operations, and an Indian government fighting its internal battle of keeping a coalition together, Raina faces insurmountable odds.
In the run-up to the film, John had mentioned Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (2012) as an example of the thriller he was aiming at. The film lacks Zero Dark Thirty's edginess, but it does have moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. The captivating battle between Raina's team and the US satellites probing the movements in Pokhran and the struggle to maintain secrecy are chapters that come across well in the film.
Pokhran takes a while to kick into action, but once in gear, moves smoothly. Perhaps rather too smoothly, as the speed at which the entire operation is set in motion (immediately after a regime change at the Centre) defies belief. But then we have to account for some suspension of disbelief.
The film's storyline demanded impressive performances, but the cast does not quite manage them. John Abraham, front and centre throughout the film, plays the courageous, diligent scientist looking for the good of the country. The actor is good in parts.
He is matched by Anuja Sathe who plays his wife, and their secret leads to one very hilarious scene in the film. However, it is in the moments of intensity that John loses a bit of steam, drawing the tension down. Like the film, the actor takes some time to kick into gear, but does put in a decent performance.
The film's focus on John allows little space for the rest of the cast to come in. Diana Penty, playing the intelligence officer overseeing the security of the operation, has little room to play the powerful women in the team.
It is only Yogendra Tikku as the most senior, cranky technical officer who makes some impact. His constant cribbing and forgetfulness add a human dimension to an otherwise mechanical operation.
Boman Irani delivers another impeccable turn as the principal secretary who handles the political side of the operations. His persona, command, and reactions make the confrontational scenes with John interesting.
In its attempt to focus on the operation, Parmanu ignores the human aspects. While there is a great amount of attention paid to Ashwat Raina's family and his struggles with his wife, we are kept in the dark about the rest of the team. Perhaps a little more exploration of that angle would have added depth to these characters.
The gimmick-heavy final scene as well as an oversimplification of the event do not help the cause.
There is an expected garnish of national jingoism to the film. From Atal Bihari Vajpayee's clipping demanding support for the nuclear tests to his warning speech to Pakistan and the eventual tribute to the scientists at the end of the film, all are used effectively in rousing the audience. It is strange that the poetic, kind speeches Vajpayee gave sound better than any the audience is used to hearing these days. But in their attempt to build up the jingoism, Sharma also deflates his antagonists.
The portrayal of the ISI and CIA as smart but ineffective operatives kind of demeans the effort put in by the protagonists. To be fair, Mark Bennington and Abhiroy Singh are impressive as the two flies in this ointment.
The film does play to the commercial element with a wonderful sequence of Raina and his wife fighting over his 'affair'. However, it sometimes deviates into comical sequences when not needed.
The answer to the question at the beginning of this review lies in a scene in the initial moments of the film. Asked to submit a short report about the possible tests to the prime minister, John's character questions how one is supposed to put so many details in two pages.
Perhaps that was the problem the director faced as well. Sharma manages to create a fairly entertaining tale of what really took place, but misses out on several details that might have truly raised the bar.
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