In 1974, India’s first nuclear blast at Pokharan, codenamed The Smiling Buddha, created ripples around the world. It caused Pakistan to frown, and immediately begin its own covert N-programme in retaliation. This news, sussed out by Indian agents, led to widespread consternation. A dirty bomb in the possession of an unstable democracy could be lethal. How it was stopped in its tracks is the story of Mission Majnu, which starts by saying that it is ‘inspired by true events’.
The film begins documentary-style by giving us glimpses of how World War 2 ended with the Nagasaki and Hiroshima explosions. And then cuts to Rawalpindi, where RAW officer Tariq Ali (Sidharth Malhotra) is setting the scene for the main act, which will in due course involve fighter jets from Israel, super-smart spymeisters from India, and impressive footwork from the deep undercover Indian agents in Pakistan. In voice-over, we hear the voice of a character who played a crucial role in those events, RAW chief R N Kao, and that is yet another nudge to us, the viewers, to take the proceedings seriously.
The question then arises of how much, in the pursuit of authenticity, can events be dramatised. Given our long experience in Bollywood spy sagas replete with song-and-dance and romance, we do not blink an eyelid when we witness the double life of the handsome Tariq. His day job as a tailoring apprentice is filled with the lovely Nasreen (Rashmika Mandanna), who may be sightless, but is adept at seeing the truth. She is not just part of his cover, to be discarded when the time is right; she is the love of his life.
When not mooning over Nasreen, Tariq is quite the cunning spy. In an inadvertently hilarious sequence, he engages a senior Pakistani military officer and digs out top-secret information. In 10 minutes flat. An old lady spills some more beans, and presto, all the dots are joined. But Tariq has a dark past, which keeps popping up in flashbacks. His foul-mouthed handler (Hussain) back home keeps asking, is he truly loyal to his country? His collaborators, a colourful mustachioed dhaba owner (Hashmi) and a bearded mullah, whose identity we learn later, turn up as and when required.
What’s nice is that the film steers clear of jingoism. A Pakistani character says that the Partition was ‘done’ by the ‘angrez’. Tariq, who is obviously Indian, is himself a product of a secular, old India: his childhood involved a gurdwara where no one went hungry, and a ‘Father Joseph’ who saw to his schooling. The line, ‘deshbhakti rooh mein hoti hai’ is like a balm in these riven, polarised times. But Mission Majnu doesn’t make enough of its potential, and of its good-looking leads. It is a sedate, by-the-numbers, drone.
Mission Majnu movie review: Sidharth Malhotra, Rashmika Mandanna, Kumud Mishra, Sharib Hashmi, Parmeet Sethi, Zakir Hussain, Rajit Kapur
mission majnu director: Shantanu Bagchi
Mission Majnu movie review: 2 stars
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