A generic spy thriller that overtly dramatises true events from our prickly relationship with Pakistan, Mission Majnu doesn’t add much to our knowledge and understanding of the universe where undercover agents operate.
Set against the backdrop of Pakistan’s desperation to create its own atom bomb after Buddha smiled in Pokharan in 1974, director Siddharth Bagchi follows the exploits of an undercover agent Tariq/Amandeep (Siddharth Malhotra) to expose Pakistan’s secret plan to achieving parity as a nuclear power.
Mission Majnu (Hindi)
Director: Shantanu Bagchi
Cast: Siddharth Malhotra, Rashmika Mandanna, Kumud Mishra, Sharib Hashmi, Parmeet Sethi, Zakir Hussain, Rajit Kapur
Runtime: 129 minutes
Storyline: In the 1970s, an undercover Indian spy takes on a deadly mission to expose a covert nuclear weapons programme in the heart of Pakistan.
There are parts of the screenplay that read like a Wikipedia page, where the makers seem eager to flaunt real-life characters like spymaster R.N. Kao (Parmeet Sethi) and the political figures involved in the political and intelligence slugfest. And then are those that are fictionalised, like how Tariq who works as a tailor stitches an amorous bond with a blind girl Nasreen (Rashmika Mandana). His handler (Zakir Hussain) on phone comes across as a caricature. As a result, the confluence of background details and the fictional histrionics of the foreground doesn’t really happen.
Siddharth is a little too eye catchy to slip into the character of a spy in a film that is trying to be realistic. Unlike his fellow spies, played by Sharib Hashmi and Kumud Mishra, he keeps the pitch higher than the situation demands. The ease with which Tariq moves in the military zones doesn’t pass muster and his love story has more posturing than poignancy. The romantic portions are dull and the camaraderie between the spies doesn’t rise above the formulaic dialogues. Rashmika seems conscious of the period she has been asked to merge with. In contrast, Ashwath Bhatt shows how a character like Zia Ul Haq could be played with remarkable restraint without losing the colour.
This tonal difference in performances becomes jarring after a point. One could sense that the writing is not bad on paper. There are interesting twists in the way Tariq ekes out information and how Nasreen could sense the truth by touch, but the execution makes it a tad too cloying for a thriller.
Thankfully, the film is not overtly jingoistic and makes a clear distinction in the way Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai handled the tenuous relationship with Pakistan in the 1970s. At the same time, the writers place characters on both sides of the border who could see history beyond the divisive version that the politicians often present.
However, what irks is how a spy can find true love while serving undercover in a foreign land, but his assumed religious identity never comes his way in our spy films. Here Raman Singh (Mishra) lives the life of a cleric and leads prayers in a mosque for years but chants ‘ Bhole Naath Ki Jai’ every time he is with his comrades. Why there is no overlap when he has understood both religions? Has he not learnt to separate religion from geographic identity as Amandeep seems to have understood during his relationship with Nasreen? Half as interesting as the title, this mission evokes more yawns than wows.
Mission Majnu is currently streaming on Netflix