Mission Raniganj: The Great Bharat Rescue Movie Review: Melodrama that doesn’t drill deep
Like any inspirational real-life story, this one too drowns in the age-old Bollywood formula of bland storytelling
Screenwriter Blake Snyder coined the term ‘Save the Cat’. It basically means that in a story, particularly a film story, the protagonist should quickly do something (like saving a cat) to make them instantly likeable to the audience. Imagine a cat is stuck on top of a tree branch, with its hair raised and the heroine (whose feline it is) is crying out for her below. In comes our hero. He takes off his shirt, flaunts his triceps and climbs up the tree. He takes the scaredy cat in his arms, ruffles its head. The heroine claps, maybe gives him a flying kiss. But if our hero is Akshay Kumar, he probably won’t be willing to come down so soon. He will wait for the media to arrive. You know, get some pictures clicked with the cat while garlanding it and putting a tika on its forehead. Then he might just declare it as the national animal.
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Kumud Mishra, Dibyendu Bhattacharya
Directed by: Tinu Suresh Desai
If the above sounds like an exaggerated attempt at drilling a point, maybe you should watch Mission Raniganj: The Great Bharat Rescue. The way the makers desperately tried to rev up every scene, in order to pull out emotions from us, felt as exhausting as an interrogation. Raniganj… is one of those films where the background music dictates how the viewer should perceive a scene and not the scene itself. Few minutes into it, I felt like the makers might as well start shaking our seats in order to make us feel. Wailing villagers, miners crying for help from the underground, there is even a dog who is shown so intensely sad that for a while I thought they were going to send its name for best actor.
The film is based on an inspiring tale. In 1989, additional chief mining engineer Jaswant Singh Gill led a rescue operation to save 65 miners stuck in Mahabir Colliery in West Bengal’s Raniganj. An explosion to excavate coal had led to a sudden influx of water and the mine was flooding rapidly. To make matters worse, oxygen was depleting underground. The clock was ticking. Gill devised a method. He drilled a hole in the ground and pushed through a life-sized metal capsule to evacuate each miner, one by one. It took six hours but he saved everyone. For his bravery, the engineer was awarded the ‘Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Padak’ by President Ramaswamy Venkataraman in 1991.
Like any inspirational real-life story, this one too drowns in the age-old Bollywood formula of bland storytelling. We have Akshay Kumar as Jaswant Singh Gill, who walks fast and talks fast because ‘humara dushman hain, waqt (Time is our enemy)’. Most times he appears on screen, he is shot in low camera angles and is treated like a demigod. In a discussion, he also has to have the most quoteworthy last words. When the naysayer engineer D Sen (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) contends that there is a high possibility that the miners might be dead, Gill quickly retorts, “With due respect sir, assumption is not a solution.” And we were supposed to cheer, hoot and clap, but what I felt like was raising both my eyebrows and saying, “Oof! What drama.”
A competent actor like Kumud Mishra, in a bid to achieve intensity, ends up parodying his character. He plays RJ Ujjwal, Gill’s boss, whose way of dealing with the crisis is smoking profusely. It’s just that Mishra overdoes his nervous act so much that it feels like he might get a panic attack any moment. The film leaves out no opportunity to get into excessive melodrama. In the mine below, the workers are living in an 80s socialist film. Jameel Khan plays Pasu, a miner who is urging everybody to stay positive and believe that the management will save them, while Ravi Kishan is the in-house pessimist Bhola whose adage is ‘Maroge sab ke sab’ (Everybody will die). The scenes showing disagreement between the workers are tiresome with blockades rather quickly resolved. It appears that Raniganj… already had a cliched narrative structure framed out and merely used a biography to give it some meat. Resultantly, characters feel caricaturish and even true events seem outlandish.
In order to show the paucity of time, at several instances a digital clock keeps flashing on the screen. Situations occur in quick succession, jargons are thrown around, people look out for drills and cranes. The camerawork is dizzying. Coherence isn’t the purpose as much as inducing caution. Raniganj… is the film version of a person who thinks talking fast is talking smart. The impending threat the film keeps harping about is a gush of water, so heavily CGIed it seems cartoonish. I once did believe in the water though, when Akshay rises out of it. Water-beads running down his head as if he was an idol. Did his stick-on beard come off a little?