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Mission Possible


Film: Mission Mangal

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu

Directed by: Jagan Shakti

Duration: 2 hrs 7 mins

Rating: * * * *

 For a country where trains seldom run on time, the roads are filled with potholes and the infrastructure, on the whole, has a lot to be desired, a bunch of highly inspired and talented men and women successfully launched an orbiter to Mars in the first attempt (no other country has been able to do so). This story is a winner in itself and I am happy to report to debutant director Jagan Shakti’s, Mission Mangal, a largely fictionalised account of that story hits bulls eye, on most counts. Shakti earlier worked as an assistant to R Balki, who has co-written the story. 

What was heart-warming about the MOM mission, also known as Mangalyan, is the role that the women played in its success, and the film has fictional characters representing them. As one line goes “Is mission ka naam DAD hota to the satellite yahi prithvi ke chakkar kat te rehta” (If this mission was called DAD, this satellite would have gone nowhere).

The film opens with Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan), doing the household chores – making breakfast and ensuring that everything is in order, including reminding her hubby (Sanjay Kapoor) that the electricity bill has to be paid. But professionally, Tara is a scientist with ISRO and an important one at that. Akshay Kumar plays Rakesh Dhawan, her boss – a carefree gent who sings old Hindi ditties, even after a mission goes awry.

His singing stops when he decides to head a mission to Mars – it takes a considerable amount of convincing his boss (Vikram Gokhale). This was also around the time when the New York Times had published a cartoon showing an Indian man in traditional attire with a cow in tow trying to gain entry to the elite space club.

A team of scientists is then assembled for the Mars mission, which primarily comprises women – there’s Eka Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha) who is looking for her ticket to NASA, Varsha (Nithya Menen) who is battling her mother-in-law, Neha (Kirti Kulhari) who is separated from her husband and also has trouble finding a house because she is a Muslim and Kritika (Taapsee Pannu) who has some of her own personal matters to deal with. That leaves us with the other two men on the project, Parmeshwar (Sharman Joshi) who is desperately looking for a marriage partner and Ananth (HG Dattatreya, a Kannada actor with two National Awards), an elderly gent in the twilight of his career. The budget for the project was cut by half, making it all the more difficult and eventually it cost a little over `400 crores – as has been pointed out often, Cuaron’s Oscar award-winning Gravity had a budget of around `650 crores.

Since this is a Bollywood film, we also need a villain or someone who will play spoilsport – and since this is a film about making in India, the naysayer is an ex-NASA employee (Dalip Tahil).

While Mission Mangal dramatises everything it does so in just the right proportions so as to have a good impact – there is the odd moment when it goes into baloney mode when the scientists take up brooms and dustpans and start singing and dancing.

The film doesn’t delve too much on the technicalities and more often than not, it employs simplistic reasons and explanations to compensate for the science – like frying puris on a low flame to save fuel. Mission Mangal works because it knows how to tug the heartstrings- and it also makes a point or two about the role of women without being preachy, like the scene in the Metro where the women save the man from a bunch of

Of the cast, Akshay Kumar’s character is not that dominating but the actor tries to make his presence felt every time he is on screen.

Vidya Balan slips into her role comfortably as the mother, wife, and scientist – the rest also fare well in their respective parts.

They may not have got the science accurately but the sentiments are spot on.   

Hollywood Calling

Film: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Duration: 2 hrs 44 mins

Rating: * * * 1 / 2

Few directors manage to tell stories with the kind of style, substance, and bravado that Quentin Tarantino does. With his ninth film (apparently he is going to pull the plug after 10), he manages to surprise with the nature of the story and continues to impress with his storytelling, even if you excuse the overindulgence at times – but in hindsight, even that has some essence.

Shot on celluloid with changing aspect ratios, like his previous three films, this is also a period drama. The title is a tribute to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in The West (1968) and Once Upon Time in America (1984), the first of the two films influencing him highly as a filmmaker.

Set in early 1969, the details in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood are quite spectacular – and being a Tarantino film, you can be assured that there is more trivia and references than you can count.   

The two central characters in the film are Rick Dalton (Leonardo Di Caprio) a popular actor of a TV series called Bounty Law, who has seen better days in his career but now it is on the wane and he has hit the bottle. His driver, friend and man Friday is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a stunt man who is also out of work, mostly. 

These two are fictional characters but a lot happening around them is real. And so are their neighbours, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) who have recently moved in next door to Dalton’s house.

Tarantino cleverly fuses fiction and reality – take the Bruce Lee fight for instance where Booth has a duel with the martial arts hero for a role in The Green Hornet, where Lee played Kato in the television series which was also released as a film in the ’70s.  

Even though they are boss and employee, Rick and Cliff are more like buddies, to a certain extent. The actor also makes the best of his employee by making him do all kind of jobs, including fixing his television antenna on the rooftop. The first sign of uneasiness in the story creeps in when Cliff offers a lift to a teenage girl who lives in a secluded place which has been taken over by a cult – there is an indirect mention of it – it belongs to Charles Manson, one of the most notorious killers in America. Tarantino shoots the whole sequence like Sergio Leone would have.

Meanwhile, Rick is a lost man, there isn’t a lot of work forthcoming and his agent (good old Al Pacino) tells him to try his luck in the Italian film industry, as a cowboy. There is also a poignant scene where the actor has a conversation with a chirpy little girl, who likes to ‘stay in her character’ on the set.

Tarantino shows restraint when it comes to the action and violence before going for the jugular in the climax, which is quite bizarre, funny and outrageous, all at the same time. But there is no restraint when it comes to a peppy music score (although there is no Ennio Morricone this time) or shots of feet.

To quote Guillermo Del Toro on OUTIH, it is a tale of a time that probably never was, but still feels like a memory.

House of Cards

Film: Batla House

Cast: John Abrahim, Mrunal Thakur, Manish Chaudhari

Directed by: Nikkhil Advani

Duration: 2 hrs 24 mins

Rating: * * 1 / 2


wo Bollywood films this week and both are inspired by real-life incidents – one got all the masala right while this one, Batla House, has a few ingredients that were not needed or could be been better. Based on the encounter that took place in 2008, director Nikkhil Advani tries to unravel what happened in the incident and the effect that it had on those involved. The director is no stranger to thrillers, he made D-Day back in 2013, which was a taut film.

Batla House cuts to the chase from the first scene – suspected terrorists are holed up in a house in an area in Delhi, Sanjay Kumar (John Abraham) a specialist officer asks his team to wait till he gets there. But led by an enthusiastic cop (Ravi Kissen) they storm the house – two terrorists are shot dead, one is captured alive but the cop also loses his life.

Questions are raised about the veracity of the encounter – was it staged? Were the two men who were killed innocent? Then how did the cop die? The answers are unravelled gradually and as long as the film sticks to the core story, it is engaging. Manish Chaudhari plays a senior officer who supports Sanjay but with certain caveats. The moment it goes off track, like with Sanjay Kumar’s wife (Mrunal Thakur), it loses steam.  Also, some of the thrills and the chases are made to look like a typical John Abraham film rather than something based on a true story. There is also a scene where Sanjay Kumar’s secular credentials are on full display – he recites a verse from the Koran.

But what really got my goat is the item number – how and where does that fit in a story inspired by true events?  Also, if X has helped to catch a culprit Y – why on Earth will the police take X to Y and tell him that X was responsible for the capture? Not very clever on the part of the police – or the screenplay writer.    

There are some moments which are engrossing, particularly the manner in which everyone tells their side of the story. John Abraham acts within his limitations and has put up one of his better performances while the supporting cast is apt. Effectively, Batla House is just a few notches above the usual Friday release.

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