Blech! This was such a bad film! BLECH!!!!!!!!!! I just want to vomit thinking about it. You probably shouldn’t watch it.
Whole Plot in One Paragraph:
Vidya is a middle-age housewife with a teenage daughter who stays out late and a son who is a musician and considering converting to Islam (because of AR Rahman? that’s such a stupid idea that I am having a hard time believing I remember it right), and a husband who is Sanjay Kapoor. She works at the Indian space agency in Bangalore. Akshay Kumar is her boss. Because of Vidya’s mistake, their latest mission fails and Akshay is demoted to the deadend Mars program while Dalip Tahil (scientist returned from NASA) is made head of the more promising mission. But then Vidya has a brilliant thought about how they can conserve fuel and use a small rocket to reach Mars and shares it with Akshay. Akshay is inspired and requests a team of top scientists, but evil Dalip Tahil sends them the subordinates of that team and so they end up with a bunch of young women, a man nearing retirement, and one young man. Nithya Menon is a young married woman trying to get pregnant, Kirti Kulhari is Muslim and recently divorced and can’t find a place to rent for both those reasons, Taapsee Pannu is married to a soldier who was recently returned home injured, and Sonakshi Sinha is a young modern single woman who has casual sex. Sharman Joshi is a young innocent devout Hindu, and H.G. Dattatreya is 2 years from retirement. Before they can even start ramping up the program, they are cut off for lack of funding. But then Akshay realizes that their other program won’t be happening and demands the budget be given to them. They start working again but the team isn’t inspired, just marking time. Until Vidya gives them a speech and asks them to remember what brought them to science in the first place. They clean up the office and get to work and come up with brilliant inspired solutions to their problems. Sonakshi and Sharman flirt a little, Nithya has her baby but continues working, Taapsee’s husband slowly gets better, Kirti Kulhari moves into a room at Dattatreya’s house. Finally they are ready to launch but they are rained in. The rain clears at the last possible minute (after Akshay already threw a hissy fit and canceled the mission) and the rocket takes off. It travels for months, their techniques are all tested, and finally it arrives in Mars orbit. yay.
Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s the opposite of “imposter syndrome”. If you have imposter syndrome, you are intelligent enough to recognize your own shortcomings but humbly assume others around you do not have those same shortcomings. Dunning-Kruger means you are so dumb you don’t even know you are dumb and think you are as smart or smarter than the people around you. This is Dunning-Kruger: The Movie.
I went through a space race phase a few years back, I watched the American trilogy The Right Stuff-From the Earth to the Moon-Apollo 13. What all of those showed, because it was the reality and kind of the only thing that makes the space program special, is that there were SO MANY people involved and working on this. Little people working on small parts of the program until it all came together in one magical moment. Sure, there were protagonists to the films, a movie needs lead characters, but there were all these other folks around, actors who just had one or two lines of dialogue but still gave a sense of this vast organization surrounding our central characters. In this movie, the entire team is 7 people. Not central characters of 7 people, but THE ENTIRE MARS MISSION TEAM. You have to be a Dunning-Kruger movie not to realize how dumb this is. Even the dialogue of the film references this vast organization. And yet all our main characters are working, by themselves, on separate aspects of the mission.
Now, if this movie were smart enough to know it was dumb, it would be a different thing. I love Indian movies that know they are dumb. Give me Happy New Year over this movie any day. I have no problem with an Indian movie about space that claims a tiny dedicated team was the whole thing if it also has songs and romances and general silliness that tells me it knows it is a dumb movie. But this film seems to think it is a Grand Tribute to Our Heroes. Why? It’s SO DUMB!
Beyond the science and realism parts, it’s also just dumb about the characters. Why did our Muslim character become a scientist? Because she saw a crescent moon (no, really. Now pick your jaw up off the floor and move on to learn about more dumbness). What’s the family background of our sexually promiscuous young woman? An orphan of course, no family, no morals. Our satellite designer who has to make it as small as possible is fat. That’s the whole joke. She’s fat (it’s Nithya by the way, soooo fat) and her job is to make technology as small as possible. Ha Ha. Oh, and our navigation scientist? She’s a terrible driver! Because she’s a woman, see? So even if she can navigate a rocket to Mars, she still can’t tell the accelerator from the brake.
Because it is so dumb, it is also casually insulting in a way that just made me want to scream. At one point they are out of money to pay for rocket parts and Vidya suggests that they use the parts from another rocket whose program has been scrapped. Akshay’s response, “ha-ha, that’s an Indian housewife for you! Always taking last night’s leftovers and reheating them for breakfast, hates waste!” Or maybe THAT’S A SCIENTIST!!!!!!! Maybe THAT’S THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE ROOM WHO SHOULD BE YOUR BOSS AND NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND YOU ENORMOUS ASS!!!!!!!
What the movie thinks it is doing is something very smart, it thinks it is saying “look, women can be scientists and also easily run their households and use their female knowledge in special ways in the world instead of turning into men”. But it’s not saying that. What it’s saying is “male scientists can just be scientists, but women have a duty to their families and we expect them to fulfill that as well. Women are capable of doing both and are failures if they can’t manage it, they can and should be designing satellites literally in the hospital after giving birth. And any scientific breakthrough women may have is simply a natural result of their womanly knowledge from housework, not manly knowledge from books and things.”
There’s a completely different way to tell this story, using the same basic plot points. Vidya’s career was at a standstill because of a bad call she made in a previous rocket launch. Her husband is a jerk who nags her to quit and stay home and raise the kids (the daughter who he is slutshaming and the son who he wants to beat for reading the Quran). She has a brilliant leap forward in how to get to Mars and it inspires a new mission. But because no one has faith in her, they give her a bunch of subordinates, who are women because women never get to advance they are always stuck behind someone else. She inspires them to work and think and dream because for once they have a chance to show what they can do. The support and inspiration at work translates into empowerment at home. Nithya throws out her abusive mother-in-law, Vidya divorces her husband, Kirti files a police case against discriminatory landlords who won’t rent to her, Sonakshi decides to take a break from men and focus on her career, and Taapsee yells at her driving teacher for assuming she is a bad driver just because she is a woman. The success of the Mars mission is the end triumph of all these changes and sacrifices, showing what women can do when they aren’t held back.
But we don’t get that story. Instead Vidya’s jerk of a husband is constantly forgiven by both her and the movie for being a terrible wet blanket of a nag. The strange issue of Kirti not being able to find a place to rent in Bangalore because she is Muslim is never addressed by the film or the characters (doesn’t Bangalore have a massive Muslim population? Where do they all live?), Taapsee not being able to drive is left as a joke, Nithya’s mother-in-law is never addressed after one horrible scene establishing her problems, and Sonakshi is set up to realize the value of a nice traditional Hindu boy like Sharman.
Part of this is simple gender flipping issues. The “nagging spouse of dedicated scientist” is a classic role. But when that spouse is a woman, who is running the household and close to the children and all of that while the hero is off working, it means something different than when the spouse is a man nagging his wife despite her still making him breakfast every morning and spending time with the kids and doing everything else. Or the most obvious example, a navigation specialist who is a nervous driver is a kind of funny character touch if it is a male character, but is complete unacceptable if it is a female character. You can’t take a standard “scientist” movie and just flip the genders and have it mean something. You have to do more work than that.
The other part of it is that this film is letting ideology guide plot instead of characters. This is Ayn Rand Presents: The Space Race. It’s not about dedicated government employees and a massive collective push towards a common goal. No, it is about one spectacular special person and his spectacular special team who do it all by themselves, despite the government. That’s why Akshay stomps in and throws the plot into pieces, we need our loudmouth extra special type to complain about government red tape and stupidity and force them to support the project. If the government just supported the project because it was their job (you know, like they did in reality) than that would mean government is good and individualism is bad.
This is where Dunning-Kruger comes back in. This film is so incapable of abstract critical thinking that it is blind to the massive holes in its own logic. It can’t include the full team beyond these people because that would acknowledge the necessity of government over the single great man. It can’t follow through on the clear issues of its female characters because that would acknowledge that being a wife and mother doesn’t come naturally to every woman and isn’t easy for any woman. It can’t even give legitimate scientific knowledge and dialogue to the female characters, because that would mean women are just scientists, not women. Heck, there’s even weird north-south stuff! I’m not one to usually call out “Northern aggression” in a film. But in this case we are talking about a scientific facility located in Bangalore. And yet everyone speaks Hindi? Not even English, Hindi? And our token Muslim character is from Lucknow, not Kerala or Hyderabad or anywhere else that would make more sense. It’s supposed to be telling a story of Indian triumph, and yet everyone is Northern only not Southern. How does that make sense? And there isn’t even an attempt to explain it! Nothing acknowledging that, for instance, half the characters are southern but eager to practice their Hindi and so they all speak Hindi in the office. No, the film is so dumb it doesn’t even realize how dumb this is and just lets it go. Heck, this is how dumb the film is, Dalip Tahil our NASA-returned scientist is named “Rupert”. He isn’t Christian (no one in this film is Christian, including our character raised in a Christian orphanage), and he is from India, but he’s playing the obnoxious American type so they give him an obnoxious American name and don’t stop to think about why that makes no sense.
It is just such a DUMB DUMB DUMB movie! It is the cinematic equivalent of the uncle who holds forth on every topic despite knowing nothing about it and then chuckles to himself after each statement because he is just that pleased by his intelligence.