Opening this week

‘Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran’ film review: A comic-book account of the 1998 nuclear tests

Abhishek Sharma’s film, starring John Abraham, revisits the five tests that transformed India into a nuclear state.

Abhishek Sharma’s Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran merrily mixes fact, fiction, Quora-type information, artificially generated suspense and domestic melodrama to roll out a nationalistic yarn about India’s transformation into a nuclear state. The image of a life-destroying mushroom cloud is celebrated here as a sign of Indian can-do. The five nuclear tests conducted in Pokhran in Rajasthan between May 11 and 13 in 1998 are attributed to five cowboys in the desert and one in New Delhi, rather than to the efforts of numerous agencies working hard and under the radar for decades.

Nation-building statements come thick and fast in the screenplay by Abhishek Sharma, Sanyukta Shaikh Chawla and Saiwyn Quadras, which includes such gems as “Heroes need intent rather than a uniform to prove themselves” and “We will not sleep for three days so that we can render our enemies sleepless.”

John Abraham, who has also produced the movie, is in Akshay Kumar-mould here as the chief crusader against subtlety. The comic book-level plot revolves around Ashwath Raina (Abraham), an Indian Administrative Service officer seemingly modelled on APJ Abdul Kalam who has “a plan called nuclear peace” that will help India compete with the United States, China and Pakistan. This plan fails after it is poorly implemented, and Ashwath retires to Mussoorie with his wife Sushma (Anuja Sathe) to lick his wounds.

The hawkish principal secretary (Boman Irani, playing Brajesh Mishra) plucks Ashwath out of the wilderness and recruits him to restart the nuclear programme. Ashwath heads a five-member team that plonks itself in Pokhran and hoodwinks American satellites. The real villain in the movie isn’t the unimaginative bureaucrat at the beginning of the film who mocks Ashwath’s mission, but the eye in the sky that circles the earth’s orbit and pick up every little detail on the ground.

The efforts of the Indian scientists, engineers and Army officers in cheating the satellites is as exciting as the final overs of an Indian Premier League match. There are also American and Pakistani spies trying to spoil India’s party.

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Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran (2018).

The other side-splitting moments are contributed by Diana Penty’s crew member, codenamed Nakul, who is easily the most glamourous and incompetent intelligence officer to ever be on government rolls. Nakul is supposed to provide the rest of her teammates with a convincing security cover, but the only reason this character exists is because the movie needed a woman who is easy on the eye.

Some of the intentional and unintentional humour ends up being a welcome break from the loud background score and the aphorism-laden screenplay. The movie does a good job of simplifying the fission-fusion business but the insistent patriotism proves to be a drag. A song titled Shubh Din plays as the team watches the bombs being delivered to their hideout. The politics surrounding the tests, which were a part of the election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party before it came to power during the period, features nowhere. Ashwath’s harangues about national duty and his portrayal as a superhero in civilian threads mocks the contributions of the hundreds of government officials who made the tests possible. Among his team mates, only Yogendra Tikku manages to leave an impression.

It is likely that Parmanu will be decorated with tax-free status and national film awards, and we imagine that it will be made mandatory viewing in schools across the country. The tests are two decades old, but Parmanu’s chest-thumping ardour and propaganda-level treatment are firmly of the moment.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.