Isn’t it strange that at a time when film trade pundits are projecting trumped-up booking figures of Pathaan, whose trailer offered a glimpse of the colossal bunkum the movie would be, Shantanu Bagchi’s Mission Majnu failed to get a theatre release (on Netflix now)! Not that this Sidharth Malhotra fictionalised espionage thriller based on actual events is cinema par excellence, but compared to reality and patriotism, the latter would be a better bet any day for a discerning movie audience.
For, barring the habit of Bollywood films to force a romantic angle in just about any narrative, Mission Majnu is bold enough to take names and depict Pakistan as it is, a rogue nation that thrives on lies. There is no pussy footing on the lines of, a terrorist works for money and has nothing to do with ideology’ even as the script shares a glimpse, albeit a watered-down version, of the risks a RAW agent takes to ensure the safety of his motherland India. For cravings of reel nationalism, this Republic Day, Mission Majnu, and not Pathaan, is the correct dosage.
For the uninitiated, the plot revolves around how Indian RAW agents planted in Pakistan in a fascinating intelligence operation thwarted their covert initiative to make nuclear weapons. Without getting into the details of the assignment (because that is the crux of the drama), the writing does include the geopolitical equations played during the time between our country, Pakistan and its respective allies. Sumit Batheja, Parveez Shaikh and Aseem Arora’s report also highlight the hypocrisy of our neighbour while applauding the strong understanding of people such as spymaster RN Kao on whose instructions events in the story unfurl.
Parmeet Sethi could have been given a meatier part, but the screenplay wanted to focus on the field actions rather than the strategies. Hence, the tracks involved Raman Singh, Aslam Usmaniya and Tariq.
Interestingly, a reviewer from a far-Left publication had problems with senior field officer Singh, who goes undercover as a Muslim cleric who is shown mouthing Jai Bholenath in the film while greeting his colleagues. That the issue of a spy’s religious choice rankled him is funny, considering the events are taking place in a country known for its severely theocratic stance on Islam. The justification pushed through is that even Tariq doesn’t discriminate as per religion when choosing the woman to marry, so Singh should reign in his Hindu identity! But what’s the problem if he is proud about flaunting it is a question the left cabal will always circumvent.
This romantic angle is one of the flaws bogging down the otherwise engaging thriller. From a pragmatic point of view would never have Tariq get emotionally involved with Nasreen despite marrying her.
The training a RAW agent receives fortifies him against such slips in action or judgement. The back story of Tariq’s father betraying his country is supplied to justify why the agent acts the way he does. It’s a balance between duty, honour, love and responsibility that magnifies the strength of Amandeep Ajitpal Singh’s sacrifice for Bharat Mata and his beloved. When he has to choose, he takes a call based on intelligence and pride in his country but not forgetting the love he nurtured for the woman who will have his baby. Yes, there is that monkey balancing with ‘Aman’, but it is not overdone or grating, which has always been the case with Bollywood films on such topics (remember Main Hoon Na?). The political hostility is appropriately suggested, and that’s what makes Mission Majnu easier to believe.
Technically speaking, Tariq’s job doesn’t look too tricky. Though the film deserves some laurels, this is one loose end in the plot. An undercover spy should be on tenterhooks and not fantasising about romantic escapades with a pretty woman (the alliance should have been not based on love but as per scheme). Also, though Sidharth Malhotra isn’t exactly dishy here, he doesn’t blend in with the crowd and sticks out like a sore thumb in the hoi polloi of Rawalpindi, unlike his colleagues. However, the actor’s earnestness in delivering a good performance isn’t hidden.
The miscast, though, is Rashmika Mandanna. There is nothing about her Nasreen that evokes poignancy or sympathy. A mere pretty face that gets in the way of Amandeep’s life when he could have lived on and done much more for his country, the motherland he feels so ardently for. Coming from Bagchi, a debutant director whose first brush with cinema happened under the tutelage of mastermind Satyajit Ray (Bagchi played the other Mukul in Sonar Kella), these slips get even more magnified when analysed.
Sharmi Adhikary is a senior lifestyle journalist and columnist with a yen for exploring interesting concepts in fashion, culture and cinema.