It’s always difficult to convert an operation that had the people of a nation divided on whether they were pro-nuclear or not, into a cutting-edge film that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran mostly manages to retain interest, despite pandering to the demands of a commercial feature.
The year is 1995 and India is being hemmed in by neighbours who are testing nuclear devices. Ashwath Raina, conscientious IAS officer and the son of a decorated soldier, is attached to the Prime Minister’s Office and insists the time is right for India to flex its muscles and test a nuclear weapon. The other babus, more focussed on tea and samosas, laugh at him, and use the floppy disc with his detailed plans to place a tea cup on. The plan is not read through, and is taken forward without him. It fails, and he is suspended.
For three years, he bides him time, teaching IAS hopefuls in Mussoorie, where his astrophysicist wife works in the observatory. A new government takes over, and a senior official (a sparkling Boman Irani) summons Raina and asks him to take up the challenge of testing a nuclear bomb.
Raina puts together a motley bunch — a scientist who is claustrophobic (Aditya Hitkari), another who is prone to forgetting everything including his alias (Yogendra Tiku), a third who rejects job offers from every space agency, and relies on banana chips to keep him going, an Army major (Vikas Kumar) who was part of the botched 1995 operation, but who can spot a 5-degree difference in angles with his naked eye! There’s the intelligence officer Irani suggests, a winsome Diana Penty, whose glamour shines through even in uniform!
They go to Pokhran under aliases inspired by the Mahabharata, and fight against time and surveillance satellites to work stealthily. Of course, they succeed, but after battling some hiccups.
It is these hiccups that drag a story that would have otherwise chugged along at a rapid pace. The astrophysicist suddenly turns into a simpering, suspicious wife. The Pakistani and American spies are a scream; so is the official in the US whose job is to monitor images from Pokhran.
The attention to detail is appalling in places. Raina’s son never grows up over three years. The clothes are not exactly 1998 vintage, and there’s something that tells you the research team was not top notch.
The film is co-produced by John Abraham, whose chiselled body usually never permits you to look beyond it. But, here, to fit into Raina’s shoes, he’s de-hulked, to play an engineer turned IAS officer. There’s a niceness about him that never refuses to leave any character he plays. Yes, his face is wooden in parts, but you can almost forgive that, and focus on the last scene, where he tears up beautifully.
The supporting cast is apt, especially Yogendra Tiku (whose shamefaced look is brilliant when his wife tells him he launches missiles but can’t find his own purse and spectacles), Boman Irani (whose voice quivers briefly when speaking about his son martyred at Siachen, but recovers to speak business).
Director Abhishek Sharma has a decent grip of the proceedings, and there’s a bit of unintended humour too (when Raina is working out his confidential plan in the middle of a valley, a monkey takes a peek, and scoots off when he glares at it!). A hat-tip to the director for the scene where Diana Penty wonders why she’s going to go by the name of Nakul. Because… Raina stutters. No one expected a woman in that position, you finish that line for him!
The background score by Sandeep Chowta is evocative, but the songs by Sachin-Jigar are speed-breakers. When they are bringing in nuclear material, you don’t want to listen to a song!
Despite all of that, when the countdown begins, and the US intelligence official rushes to meet his President to stop the blast, your heart does race.
Parmanu is not a film that you’ll want to remember for its in-depth analysis of a happening, but you could watch it, for Sharma has made a movie that does not pander to jingoism even while its core is national pride.
And, yes, you could chuckle at how the tests marked one of the biggest failures of US Intelligence. Cocking at snook at Big Brother can make you smile.
The Parmanu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.