It’s Not Shubh Mangal for the Women of ‘Mission Mangal’
‘Mission Mangal’ is directed by Jagan Shakti.
“Isn’t Varsha the perfect choice for a Lightweight Satellite engineer?”, laughs Tara Shinde (Vidya Balan), as she and her senior Rakesh Dhawan (Akshay Kumar) go through the resumes of the team they are supposed to assemble for the ambitious Mars mission. Varsha Pillai aka Nithya Menen isn’t the conventional thin heroine, and I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears that this joke was actually coming from Vidya Balan, who is herself known for breaking stereotypes. She does ‘redeem’ herself, though. “I don’t have the right to crack such jokes”, chuckles the senior ISRO scientist, and all is well.
This is just the beginning. Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, Kirti Kulhari and Nithya Menen – it’s very difficult to waste five successful female actors, but ‘Mission Mangal’ does that with remarkable confidence.
Behind the successful 2013 Mars Orbiter Mission were some incredibly talented men and women, but the Jagan Shakti directorial doesn’t have enough screen time for all, because saviour of the nation Akshay Kumar has set foot.
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In a film that is supposed to have an ensemble cast, only the hackneyed backstories of the women have been given special attention. Mission Mangal starts off with Vidya Balan AKA Tara Shinde praying to the numerous gods and goddesses who occupy every nook and corner of her house. She is the queen of jugaad – from squeezing off the remnants of toothpaste with a belan to frying pooris by turning off the gas and saving fuel. Vidya has to deal with an Islamophobic husband whose face lights up the moment she utters ‘resign.’ And in order to prove she is a ‘cool’ mom she goes to a club where her daughter is partying, downs a few shots and starts grooving to the music. Tara also ensures that a priest is stationed inside the ISRO headquarters to break coconuts and chant mantras whenever a satellite is about to be launched.
Second, Varsha Pillai (Nithya Menen). She faces difficulty conceiving and her mother-in-law never lets go of an opportunity to throw barbs at her.
Finally when Varsha becomes pregnant and breaks the news to Tara and Rakesh (Akshay), the latter launches into a monologue about whether she would choose to grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or stay at home. He even offers to build a creche for the child. “The choice is yours”, Akshay concludes. To be honest, Varsha didn’t need the lecture. She could have made up her mind otherwise, too. And the most important question - which woman dives into work in the hospital itself, right after delivery?
Let’s come to Ekaa Gandhi (Sonakshi Sinha), Neha Siddiqui (Kirti Kulhari) and Kritika Aggarwal (Taapsee Pannu). Ekaa is Bollywood’s token sexually liberated woman - she smokes, uses cuss words, and has multiple partners. Sari is an insult to her, India is a conservative country of fools, her ‘dream’ is to settle in the West and she is given the most cliche sob story. It’s ironic that just before the credits roll, she is seen sporting a gorgeous black saree. And guess what? When Ekaa hits rock bottom and utters the word “impossible”, Akshay growls, “Pack your bags and leave!”. Next morning, she sails to her department with a solution!
Neha Siddiqui is the perfect candidate for Mission Mangal’s Muslim quota. She is a divorcee unable to find a house because…. Religion. Neha fights it out, but she tears up seeing her husband in a car with another woman. And finally, it takes another man to teach her husband a lesson.
Kritika also suffers from the same non-role. When her husband (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), who is in the Army, is injured, she absconds from work. As Kritika nurses him back to health, Ayyub reminds her how passionate she was about her work when they met. To which she says something like “that was another time”. Kritika also dances her way back to her team, and nobody questions her long absence. Wonder what my boss would think if I resorted to the same theatrics.
It’s unfortunate to see that while the women have been shown juggling their domestic and professional lives, we know nothing about Akshay save that he is a bachelor.
The jokes are more ridiculous than the film. If you are still reeling from the one with which the story starts, let me serve you a buffet. During a meeting with the director of ISRO, Tara suggests that they can use the instruments from Chandrayaan 2 for Mars Mission because the former project has been put on hold. “Why waste, sir?”, she asks. To which Akshay replies, “Raat ka khana agar bach jaye toh subah tadka laga ke de do (If there are leftovers from last night’s meal, they will be reused for the next morning). Had there been Sharman Joshi instead of Vidya, would he have resorted to the same humour?
There’s a loathsome sequence wherein Kritika grabs the crotch of her driving instructor when he asks her to shift to fourth gear. To wrap it up, Dhawan is seen complaining to Tara that the team has become a “Mangal mahila mandal” and he would like a man to give him company.
The problem with ‘Mission Mangal’ is its offensive gaze. ‘Hidden Figures’ celebrated women scientists and their achievements, and this one reduces them to caricatures.
Letting them lead in the end when they make their appearance before the press is not enough - there has to be more.
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