New Delhi | Updated: May 25, 2018 9:46:53 pm
The story of how India entered the coveted global ‘nuclear club’ in May 1998 has been well documented. Those with long memories will recall the jubilation reflected in the media, as well as among parts of the general public, when the nuclear devices were exploded in the middle of the sand dunes of Pokharan. The highly secret project was orchestrated and executed by the chosen few in the then Vajpayee government, the military establishment, and the scientific community. As expected, there was great consternation and condemnation, from the US, which saw it as an embarrassing intelligence failure, as well as China and Pakistan.
In its recreation, ‘Parmanu’ plays out like a cat-and-mouse thriller, led from the front by the ultra-patriotic civil servant Ashwat Raina (Abraham), and his bunch of merry men and (one) woman (Penty). Even if we were to ignore the film’s jokey, often unintentionally funny tone, presumably used for wider audience appeal, it’s hard to overlook it’s scant use of historical fact: there is no mention of the origins of the nuclear programme, no mention of the how it came to be at the stage it is, when the movie opens.
Telling us that the film is merely ‘inspired’ by a true event (in the opening credits), is warning enough: we know, even before the film starts, that it will bung in ‘fictional’ masala to keeps us ‘entertained’ while the plot tries to find an uneasy fit alongside ‘dry fact’. So we get a frustrated Raina, biding his time after being fired by a dishonest ‘babu’ for creating a blueprint for a successful nuclear explosion, and his resurrection by another canny career bureaucrat (Irani). We get patriotic speeches. And all surface, no depth. Only saving grace: no outright anti-Pakistan jingoism.
If we go by the film, Raina single-handedly does it all : creates a team, gets it going, and keeps the American spies and satellites at bay while he’s at it. There is no doubt that the blasts were conducted in extreme secrecy, away from prying eyes, but you end up laughing out loud at the antics of the sole CIA agent on the ground who hangs out with an ISI type, one togged out in bermudas, the other in a beard. By the time you encounter another Yank, armed with a squeeze ball, and his grim boss, the laughter stops, leaving you wondering why it is so difficult to make a film on a significant event such as this one, which does full justice to its subject.
You will get the money shot of Abraham and co walking in slo-mo to swelling background music, enveloped in a comic book feel. You will not get crucial nuance and detail, essential requirements for a film to be to taken seriously.
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