Mission Raniganj is inspired by fact and propelled by bombast. Rustom director Tinu Suresh Desai’s new movie is based on the 1989 rescue of workers from a flooded mine in Raniganj in Bengal. The operation had a starring role for engineer Jaswant Singh Gill, played by Akshay Kumar in the film.
Desai, screenwriter Vipul K Rawal, and adapted story writer Deepak Kingrani throw at an already dramatic incident extra spice and sacks of salt. Heaving with incident, frantically edited, and stuffed with agitated miners and their shrieking families, the 138-minute movie is set at the highest possible volume at all times.
Akshay Kumar’s Gill is depicted as an over-achieving trouble-shooter. Gill’s acumen is the need of the hour when 71 miners get trapped in the bowels of the earth.
The man officially in charge, Ujjwal (Kumud Mishra), all but weeps when Gill offers his service. Ujjwal spends the movie smoking furiously, looking awestruck at Gill, and undermining any authority he might have had.
An intricate co-ordination of energies made the rescue possible – these are shown in the movie, if in fast-forward mode.
Bindal (Pavan Malhotra) supplies the drills for the operation. Tapan (Veerendra Saxena) surveys the area, which allows Gill to pin-point the location where the miners have taken refuge from the surging waters. Under the surface, Bashu (Jameel Khan) rallies his terrified comrades, providing leadership and keeping frenzied dissenter Bhola (Ravi Kishan) from exploding.
The plot doesn’t need a villain, but a few are conjured up nevertheless. Egged on by his scheming superior (Shishir Sharma), mine employee Sen (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) assiduously undermines Gill, even at the risk of losing lives.
Beyond the relentless melodrama lies an interesting story about valour, integrity, and an application of engineering science above and below the ground. Nobody on the creative team has heard of the saying “If you haven’t struck oil in the first five minutes, stop boring”. It’s a shame, because the event that inspired the overstretched Mission Raniganj tells an important story about the dynamics of a civilian rescue.
With the focus firmly on showing Kumar’s Gill as the hero who has all the answers whatever the question, there isn’t much scope for the rest of the cast to stand out. But a few of them do. Jameel Khan is impressive as the leader of the underground. Dibyendu Bhattacharya, playing a 1950s-era thug, is enjoyably odious.
Ravi Kishan is so over-the-top that his character Bhola might have made it out of the mine on fumes alone. But Kishan has one of the funniest lines in the movie, over the choice of food that is sent down to the miners.
One of the subtlest performers is a dog, who is loyal to one of the miners. This remarkable canine, who comes up with the perfect expression for the requisite scene, is a lovely distraction.
Unable to trust the inherent thrill of the original mission, director Desai insists on assaulting the senses. The comic-book villainy is as hard to take as Akshay Kumar’s enervating nobility. But Desai does well with some of the technical aspects. The production design, by Amrish Patange and Dayanidhi Patturajan, gives a plausible sense of a dusty mining town as well as the contours of the mine itself. The mechanics of the rescue manage to survive the crude filmmaking.
The improvised intelligence displayed by Gill refuses to be cancelled out by Akshay Kumar’s single-note performance. There’s Parineeti Chopra too as Gill’s equally noble wife, who contributes little beyond the support expected of the spouse.