Parmanu review: Billowing plume of jingoistic smoke

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French philosopher and writer Voltaire once proclaimed: “It is forbidden to kill, therefore all murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” With nationalistic jingoism at its core, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran is a film that blows the trumpets rather loudly to drown out the sound of five nuclear bomb test explosions in Pokhran in 1998. What we are left with is a billowing plume of smoke which represents the potential of the nation to kill in large numbers.

Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran
  • Director: Abhishek Sharma
  • Cast: John Abraham, Diana Penty, Boman Irani, Mark Bennington
  • Story line: A historical drama on the Indian Army’s nuclear testing in Pokhran in 1998

In the darkness of the night, a scientist involved in the mission sneakily takes the plutonium out of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in a van to transport it to Pokhran. As the vehicle jerks and boxes quiver, he says with concern, “Agar yeh phatega toh pura sheher tabah ho jayega (If this explodes, then the entire city will be destroyed)”. He then smiles wryly, and proudly declares, “Made in India”. The irony of those two dialogues epitomises the film’s agenda: to uncritically take pride in the nuclear tests and justify it as patriotism.

One can’t expect the film to be a journalistic retelling. But nationalistic sentiments without nuance can only result in chest-thumping. Even if you look at Parmanu strictly as a spy/war thriller, it is simplistic, which paradoxically makes it engaging. Its efforts at building up a momentum of suspense is periodically successful, but impeded by faux sincerity that all actors project. John Abraham’s inability to emote strangely works in his favour as he plays the muscular nerd, Ashwat Rana, an IAS officer who loves his nation beyond any reasonable doubt, and failed to get into the army because of flat feet. I still can’t fully understand the relevance of Diana Penty in the film, but female representation in an all-male setup is always refreshing.

Abhishek Sharma’s film has all the ingredients to be a propaganda film – from “desh ke liye shaheed (martyred for the nation)” dialogues to caricaturish portrayal of the enemy (American CIA and Pakistani ISI) to obscurantism and oversimplification of a complex mission. It makes one wonder if it is more than a coincidence that a jingoistic film like Parmanu which hails the achievement of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government finds its footing in the current reign of the BJP. In the last one year itself, we have had films like Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar and Raj Kumar Gupta’s Raid which cast a critical eye on the Indira Gandhi government. Coincidence, again?

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 6:00:09 AM |

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