“Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran”- Is it Worth Watching?

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The release of Abhishek Sharma’s “Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran” is certainly well-timed. It marks twenty years since India’s successful testing of its nuclear capabilities. It also serves as positive political propaganda for the party currently in power, facing flak for its right-wing fundamentalism and failed electoral machinations in South India. In the process, the film unwittingly glorifies war, armament and the pursuit of political gains. I’m aware that nuclearization has its advantages as a scare tactic against enemy nations, and serves to put the country on a global pedestal; but my personal brand of patriotism doesn’t allow me to celebrate an instrument of large scale destruction. As a reviewer, however, I’m putting aside my feelings to assess the film on its merits.

“Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran”, is about India’s covert operation of testing its nuclear missiles in Rajasthan in May 1998. Orchestrated by former President A.P.J Abdul Kalam, in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government; the test happened under great secrecy. The main aim was to hide it from the USA, whose big brother attitude prevented India from flexing its muscles. By effectively hoodwinking America and performing the test, India became part of a select group of nuclear nations.

Abhishek Sharma has a cracker of a story, as is the case with most historical political dramas. The plot moves at a well-timed pace and never drags. Some Bollywood elements seem unnecessarily thrown in, such as silly songs and a pretty lady officer. For the most part though, Sharma stays true to the time and events.

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John Abraham and Diana Penty in a scene from the film. Picture courtesy: http://www.rediff.com

John Abraham plays Ashwat Raina, an Intelligence Officer somewhat excessively concerned about making India nuclear empowered. Boman Irani plays the nodal government officer in charge of the scheme. Under Irani’s guidance, Abraham forms a motley team consisting of scientists, army officers and the like, who adopt aliases inspired by the five Pandavas and carry the operation to fruition. Diana Penty is a perfectly-coiffed and ill-placed Intelligence Officer, whose only role is to add glamour. The movie also has a couple of spies, earnestly attempting to thwart efforts. Abraham begins weak, but the introduction of Irani, who’s performance is always spot-on, elevates his acting somewhat. All other players are average but don’t take away from the story.

The songs are especially annoying, the likes of “Shubh Din” being a blatant nod to BJP’s tagline at the last national election. The editing is choppy in an attempt to keep the film within a two-hour length. The cinematography works well as the arid desert adds charm as well as sufficient drama.

Sharma has made this overtly nationalistic film with a strong political angle. I wish he’d focused on different aspects of this historic event, such as India’s intelligence and technological feats, which are entirely glossed over. The film is a shadow of what it could have been. However, if you enjoy Bollywood films and are interested in this subject or this era, it’s worth a watch.

Film rating: 2.5/5

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*Movie poster courtesy: http://www.hindi.firstpost.com

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