Film: Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran
Director: Abhishek Sharma
Cast: John Abraham, Diana Penty, Boman Irani, Vikas Kumar
In Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, John Abraham does an Akshay Kumar. He bats for the country, but more than that, he bats for a party - the one ruling us currently. The same one was in power in 1998 during the Pokhran tests and Abraham's Ashwat Rana spearheads the team. APJ Abdul Kalam did the job that Rana is shown to be doing here, but if you are looking for a premier character to be a Muslim, you've walked into the wrong film. It was his idea from 1995 when, if the movie is to be believed, in power was a slacking party which was only good at having tea and samosas and meetings in between.
They failed in 1995, bringing the country into disrepute and making India a laughing stock in front of the rest of the world (the film insists). Parmanu shows us clippings of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's rousing poetic speeches every now and then. It creates an illusory effect of how the 1998 government is a doer and those of the past were incompetent. This is Hindi mainstream cinema since 2014 in a nutshell. Abishek Sharma, it appears, is its new player.
The sidelined-post-1995 Rana takes to coaching young civil service aspirants who are eyeing comfortable houses and cars with beacon lights more than anything. When the government changes in 1998, Rana becomes a student in a classroom bench as he's surreptitiously invited to a school where the PM's principal secretary takes to asking questions. It is a neat sounding full circle, but Sharma is not a filmmaker deft enough for this to land.
Parmanu is the budget Pokhran story. The production values are non-existent. A scene involving Mahabharata TV series (hilariously shoehorned into the script) gives Rana his pitch but it is over extended. I was afraid someone was going to say that Lord Krishna possessed nuclear bombs in Mahabharata or come up with the Oppenheimer quote, but thankfully we are spared going down that rabbit hole. Mahabharata gives the team their codenames, and if there was anything to rival this unwieldy metaphor, it is the pass code of the day the team routinely comes up with.
All this is done without a hint of irony. When you treat a good, interesting story with such levity, how can the storyteller be taken seriously? The team members are given personal quirks - one is forgetful, one engineer wonders why a machine isn't working not realising that it is not plugged in, another suffers from claustrophobia. Here is an example for how poorly researched and uninformed Parmanu is: a south Indian engineer speaks Tamil in the first scene he appears in and subsequently, he is shown munching banana chips all his waking hours. Mr. Sharma's film may be set in the 90s, but he makes mistakes that are unforgivable in 2018.
Diana Penty plays the security head, the token woman character. Token because there is literally nothing that she adds to the story. In the final act, there is an awkward chase involving an incompetent Pakistani agent and an awkward Rana - one cannot tell if this is awkwardly filmed or if it is deliberately done to establish that Rana has no military training. But when you have a security detail, why couldn't this chase involve Penty's character Ambalika (even their real names are from Mahabharata)? Sharma cannot muster any tension and when he decides to dial it up, it is all too late. Parmanu is the Sony TV show CID's version of the Pokhran story. At least Akshay Kumar commands bigger budgets and better production values. Not to mention the acting talent.