Despite the disclaimer that the film is fiction, Parmanu closely follows what happened before the Pokhran II tests in 1998. I had met one of the key figures in the year 2000, and he had told me about the team having code names and army uniforms. There are many other details too, like nuclear bombs getting transferred in army trucks that are true and public knowledge now.
Somewhat like the film Titanic where Jack and Rose were fictional elements embedded in the tale of a real-life event, here the fictional character is Ashwat Rana (John Abraham). Ashwat is an IIT educated IAS officer who is bold enough to think of India going nuclear when the politicians are only interested in symbolic objections to China’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal. Fired from his job, he relocates to Mussoorie leading a semi-retired life. He is pulled out of his self-imposed exile by Himanshu Shukla (Boman Irani), Principal secretary to the Prime Minister who wants to get the country back on the nuclear path. How Ashwat assembles a team and manages to successfully complete the mission forms the rest of the story.
The 1998 nuclear tests were applauded by the majority of Indians and watching the drama unfold will be emotional for many. Contrary to what many left-leaning media want us to believe, Pokhran II blasts were and still continue to be much appreciated. However the makers have erred in showing it as a one man mission with the other key players only being side characters. Rather than giving more screen time to the other scientists and engineers, time is devoted to a rather funny CIA agent who mouths dialogues like “teekha is good” or something to that effect. His sidekick, an ISI agent, is unconvincing to say the least.
In order to be a larger-than-life hero, Ashwat Rana has to tread through the proverbial fire. No minister can dismiss an IAS officer because of an unsuccessful mission. Transfer him yes, dismiss from service- no. When you are making a film that is “inspired from true events”, you need to go slow on jingoism. Working for the honour of the country is great, but to pay no regard to the practical realities of life is probably not palatable. You don’t really need to give up your material aspirations just because you love your country.
The director is good when he is telling a linear story but shows lack of strength in the emotional parts. The scene where Ashwat’s wife confronts him about his supposed romantic transgressions ends up being unintentionally funny. Same goes for the ISI agent, who does no more than goad the CIA agent to call America. The ISI agent’s fight with Ashwat is like soda without fizz.
The film has some very positive factors going for it. The subject matter itself is its biggest strength. The pace is brisk and the tension palpable. The film is many months delayed and under-marketed, but the word-of-mouth publicity can possibly make it a sleeper hit. Though the director may not have the finesse to helm a thriller-drama, Parmanu is still an entertaining watch.