Film: Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran

Director: Abhishek Sharma

Cast: John Abraham, Diana Penty and Boman Iranani

UAE rating: PG15

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran attempts to re-construct a covert, complicated operation, in which India sneakily tested its nuclear weapons under utmost secrecy, right under the US’ spy satellites, and declared its arms might to the world.

It’s based on true events, but director Abhishek Sharma’s thriller has been embellished in true Bollywood style. So expect the thriller to hit a few jarring notes including inserting some ill-timed patriotic jingles as valiant men go about the dangerous mission of orchestrating a series of explosions that had worldwide ramifications.

If that doesn’t grate, the seemingly contrived angle of the lead actor, played by Bollywood dreamboat John Abraham, and his marital discord with his wife has been thrown in for good measure. Our takeaway? Mixing of genres makes for an unholy union.

In one swift stroke, they managed to reduce Parmanu, a tale of nuclear espionage and political double-crossing, into child’s play.

Parmanu makes you wonder how can an earnest on-screen adventure with a potential to end with a big bang on the silver screen, end on a whimper?

Actor John Abraham, who plays an upright civil servant, is the leader of a motley group of hyper-intelligent team who are working on exploding nuclear bombs underground in the deserts of Rajasthan. So you have scientists and bomb experts masquerading in army uniforms to pull off an impossible feat in the remote parts of Thar desert in Rajasthan so that India could be a major player in the global arms race.

From the beginning, it’s established that Abraham who plays Captain Ashwath Raina wears his patriotism on his sleeve. The opening scenes establish Raina as a man with grit and gumption as he tells a room full of jaded politicians that India should test its own nuclear weapons in retaliation to Pakistani’s growing nuclear might, thanks to its goodwill with China and the US twenty years ago. Precious minutes are lost establishing Abraham as a misunderstood patriot with iron will.

While Abraham looks shabby chic in a uniform, he falters on the acting front. He comes across as dead-panned for most parts of the film. His impassive expressions make it difficult for us to feel invested in his journey and his passionate urge to serve his country.

Diana Penty as security expert Ambalika, who is responsible for the safety of this secret group, looks fetching. Her radiant skin and salon-perfect hair makes her a better fit at a spa than the grimy, sandy outdoors. These two don’t break a sweat (literally) and their collective good-looks work against them.

While nuclear science isn’t the most riveting of topics, credit has to go to Sharma and Abraham for not making it a snooze-fest. It could be a dull topic for many, but they manage to insert some verve into their plot.

Real footage of Indian political leaders making statements to the media and US’ condemnation after the nuclear testing and CIA intelligence failure are juxtaposed with scenes that have been re-created of men pulling off the nuclear test.

Another standout feature is that Parmanu does not indulge in unnecessary Pakistan bashing. The ones that take the rap here are Americans and their questionable spying skills. It’s a refreshing change in Hindi cinema with patriotic undertones.

But the dizzying sense of urgency that makes a film thrilling is missing here. There are no nail-biting finishes or adrenaline-charged situations that would have sky-rocked Parmanu to stratospheric limits. While the premise is intriguing, the film doesn’t blow your mind away. Watch this if you want superficial knowledge about what went down as India aggressively joined the nuclear arms race.