Times are such that chest-thumping patriotism is gaining in popularity. It’s commendable that Abhishek Sharma picked a subject from the past, which most of today’s generation would be unaware of — the nuclear tests in Pokhran in 1998, that made India a power to reckon with. But then, instead of using actors to play the real heroes of Operation Shakti (including former President APJ Abdul Kalam), Sharma Bollywoodises the story beyond belief.
Showing nondescript scientists, engineers, soldiers and bureaucrats slogging away for months, would probably have made for dull cinema, so there’s a touch of the epics, some domestic drama, lots of slow-no marching with purpose, and a girl added for glamour. People also pause frequently to declare their love for the nation, to get their share of applause.
Engineer and bureaucrat Ashwath Raina (John Abraham) makes a report about how India can be a nuclear power, but other babus make fun of him, and politicians make a hash of his plan without fully understanding it. This results in failure, American and Pakistani outrage and the sacking of Ashwath.
He relocates with his astrophysicist wife (Anuja Sathe) and son to Mussoorie; his dormant patriotism is awakened by the new principal secretary Himanshu Shukla (Boman Irani) to the Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee seen in well-chosen news clips, as are Bill Clinton, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto).
He picks a team, codenamed after the five Pandavas — the female intelligence officer (Diana Penty) in charge of security is named Nakul, to which she raises an eyebrow and shrugs. The big problem here is to prevent the Americans from finding out, so the work in the hot, sandstorm-afflicted Rajasthan town of Pokhran has to be done in the “blind spots” when two satellites keeping an eye on Indian soil pass each other. This frantic activity gives the film pace, suspense and the pleasure of hoodwinking the CIA and ISI spies. In between, the political situation causes Ashwath and his team some heartburn, as conflicting instructions are received, but mostly their covert operation is carried out without the outside interfering much. For all its faults, Parmanu is entertaining and John Abraham (also co-producer) suits the part, even if he has to just frown a lot and shout “Go go go!”