A still of 'Mission Raniganj' Image Credit: Akshay Kumar/X

If you can overlook the fake facial fuzz on Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar and the loud acting in survival thriller ‘Mission Raniganj’, you might come out of this film relatively unscathed.

Director Tinu Suresh Desai’s ‘Mission Ranigunj’ is a step-by-step account of how Jaswant Singh Gill rescued over 70 miners trapped in a coal mine in India’s mining district Raniganj in West Bengal. Based on a real-life incident that played out in 1989, the movie chronicles how a scrupulous rescue-trained officer, Gill, goes all out to save the lives of those miners trapped in a flooded coal mine.

Devoid of resources and battling on-ground politics among his dishonest peers who will ultimately take credit for the rescue mission, the stoic turban-wearing officer goes all out to save the poor miners. He is so valiant that he even volunteers to get inside a makeshift capsule to shepherd the victims – not knowing whether his never-tried-before technique would work or not. Also, did I tell you that his wife, played by Parineeti Chopra, is pregnant but she’s beatific even when she learns of her husband’s do-or-die career calls.

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While the premise of the film is interesting, the theatrical acting by miners and their families dampens the overall survival thriller. The crying and desperate pleas of those worried families are so over the top that you wonder if they were briefed to dial up the drama to a screeching level. Instead of feeling empathetic and distressed at their condition of watching their loved ones facing unknown dangers and possible death, we feel suffocated at their teary theatrics. There’s even a scene where a weeping wife of a trapped miner just slaps Kumar’s character in frustration. The unnecessary addition of melodrama when there’s enough drama unfurling underground works against this film.

The film would have benefited from more factual and no-frills reportage. But director Desai never lets us forget that the main actor is a big Bollywood A-lister and that a couple of slow-motion scenes are inserted to drill in that poignant point.

Mission Raniganj
Akshay Kumar plays saviour in 'Mission Raniganj'

The villains are also impossibly tinny. Dibyendu Bhattacharya as the corrupt engineer who tries to scuttle Gill’s rescue mission is reduced to a caricature. A scene in which he is belted by a power-hungry local politician (Rajesh Sharma) is unintentionally funny. Sharma ties him up to a pole while pelting him with a belt for trying to sabotage Gill’s rescue mission. He speaks of how humanity should undercut personal and corporate greed. While the point could have been made without indulging in outlandish scenes, the director opts for such sequences to take the narrative forward.

Talented actors, including Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, and Anant Mahadevan, are wasted in poorly written roles. While we can’t fault actor Akshay Kumar for trying his hardest and appearing sincere, his propensity to make films that showcase real-life Indian heroes reeks of repetition and formulaic acting. Every scene is designed to make him come across as this larger-than-life superhero. But something tells us that the real-life Gill had more gravitas. The scenes in which desperate miners turn against each other and fight also look impossibly staged.

Speaking of impossible scenarios, Chopra, who has limited scenes with Kumar, is merely on call to be this proverbial wind beneath his wings. Her calm demeanour while a possibly tragedy awaits her feels improbable. The VFX of the mines being flooded with gushing water are equally amateurish.

Go down this dark tunnel of an over-the-top movie only if you can survive the bombastic acting and dialogues.

Making a buffoonish spectacle of a grim issue – where miners risk their lives every day to earn a livelihood and are stooges to corporate greed – doesn’t make for engaging cinema or so ‘Mission Raniganj’ teaches us. This is an aborted attempt at a good filmmaking mission.

Our GN star rating:
Film: Mission Raniganj
Director: Tinu Suresh Desai
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Rajesh Sharma, Ravi Kishan
Star: 2 out of 5