Welcome to Bollywood And Beyond, our new regular column looking at the incredible movies coming out of Bollywood and Indian cinema, with our host, Chris Conway.
Mission Mangal (translated as Mission Mars) tells the true story of the Indian Mars orbiter mission, that was successfully launched back in September, 2014. It’s not an action film or edge-of-seat drama, like Apollo 13, but like Ron Howard’s movie, it tells the audience a story we know has actually happened.
Initially announced in 2013 and going into production as the real-life Mars Orbiter was launched, the film’s story is loosely based on the lives of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation and focuses on the largely female team and their driven mission director, who all made it happen against incredible odds.
Director Jagan Shakti (previously a second unit or assistant director on films including Dear Zindagi, Holiday and Thupakki) put together a very engaging cast: Akshay Kumar (one of Bollywood’s most prolific actors) is perfect as the slightly eccentric director, and among the female team is the always excellent Vidya Balan (from films including Lage Raho Munna Bhai) struggling to balance work with being a mom and wife. Sonakshi Sinha plays a smoking, serial dating propulsion expert, Tapsee Panu portrays a soldier’s wife and payload expert. Add a pregnant woman, a separated Muslim woman, a nerdy young guy and an elderly man (at 59?) – and that’s quite a team.
The main story follows the mission’s beginnings and the problems faced by the team along the way, allowing us to get to know and empathise with the characters. This is greatly helped with the inclusion of some gently funny scenes, highly enjoyable as Akshay and Vidya are such likeable actors.
It’s all been slightly romanticised, of course – several times a team member will find something from everyday life which is the solution to a problem, and the film doesn’t really do science – in fact the team always use simplified terms, even in mission control.
The film even slips a song or two in there, this is Bollywood, after all. You’d be disappointed if there were none (certainly Indian audiences would be).
Shakti (along with fellow writers R. Balki, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi) makes sure the story is big on Indian patriotism – and why not? It is the first Asian Mars mission (and the cheapest!) – but if you’re not in a hurry with the plot everything carries you along to a nice ending.
In fact, if you’re looking for a word to describe the film, “nice” would fit perfectly.
Chris Conway is a Bollywood enthusiast who sees at least twenty Bollywood films a year, often at Leicester’s Piccadilly Bollywood Cinema. He’s also a jazz pianist, vocalist, composer and songwriter who is currently celebrating his thirtieth year of recording and performing. He also loves cloudy days and J-pop.