Meghna Gulzar got the tone right in the retelling of Sehmat’s story in Raazi. Sehmat played by Alia Bhatt, a spy who marries into the upper echelons of the Pak army and relays vital intelligence to India. It had nail-biting thrill at every turn, her connection with her decent Pak husband neatly woven into it.
Web series like Mukhbir also got it right with the fictional story of Harfan the Indian spy who operated inside Pakistan, always adhering to the first rule of the spy game: don’t fall in love.
In Mission Majnu, writers Parveez Shaikh, Aseem Arrora and Sumit Bhateja go into khichdi territory. First, they state established historical facts of the 70s. India hurt Pak badly in all their wars. India’s nuclear test had Pakistan jump in protest internationally while President Bhutto covertly employed Dr AQ Khan to build an atom bomb for his country. “The ultimate symbol of power,” as the Pak side puts it. Kao (Parmeet Sethi) led India’s much-feared intelligence wing RAW which had its agents deeply embedded inside Pakistan. “They are our mitthi ke sipahi,” state the Indians with chest puffed up. Bhutto was overthrown by General Zia with martial law replacing democracy and on this side of the border, fiery Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was electorally defeated.
So far so true.
The fiction begins and director Shantanu Bagchi proceeds to introduce myriad tracks.
An effete PM, soft on Pakistan, replaces Indira Gandhi, and has friendly telephonic chats with Zia. Kao is sidelined.
Kao continues to believe that Tariq (Sidharth Malhotra) is their best bet inside enemy territory to pinpoint the location where Pakistan has its secret nuclear facility. The mission goes on without the PM’s knowledge.
Amandeep Ajitpal Singh masquerading as Tariq is the son of a traitor. Though Kao believes Amandeep, his best cadet, has the josh to prove his patriotism, he strangely puts a handler (Zakir Hussain) in charge in Delhi who despises the Indian spy. And so, every time Tariq reports from Pakistan, the man in Delhi sneers at the information, orders him to sign off with his full name and shames him for being a traitor’s son. Is that supposed to be part of the cat-n-mouse game?
Some parts do show sparks of RAW intelligence…like how Tariq collects irrefutable evidence of where the nuclear facility is located and sends it to India.
But for a spy thriller, there are only snatches of nail-biting tension. Unlike Raazi or Mukhbir which kept you on the edge at several moments, Bagchi doesn’t quite build the excitement. Sidetracked by a love story where Tariq falls in love and marries blind girl Nasreen (Rashmika Mandanna), the writing team doesn’t use it to create enough tension. For instance, a blind girl may have finely-tuned senses which could lead to moments of suspicion and tension. But the team chooses to keep Nasreen bland and pregnant with Tariq sneaking off from work and home with impunity. No questions asked by anybody, no red flags raised.
To prove the superiority of the Indian intelligence, Mossad and Israel are shown to get the location of the nuclear facility wrong while Tariq has to go out on a limb to prove that it is where he says it is. Because his handler in India who’s out to demoralise him, won’t believe him.
If the edge-of-the-seat thrill is missing most of the way, so is the action. Except for two action sequences, one on a train and another at the airport, it’s a largely unexciting spy story.
In a thriller without tension but with plenty of unasked questions, Sidharth Malhotra is charming most of the way but out of his depth in emotional moments. Rashmika who’s known for her spunk is miscast as a colourless blind girl.
Laughably, India not only wins over Israeli intelligence but we also have a soft Prime Minister who refuses to attack the nuclear facility. Instead, he tells off Zia over the phone and Zia is so scared of India that he shuts it down.
Are we done? No.
Tariq and the network of Indian spies must be tracked down. But Tariq won’t cheat Nasreen. Never mind if a nikkah with a non-Muslim, conducted by a fake mullah, is intrinsically cheating, a fake marriage. It goes unaddressed.
It leaves Nasreen literally holding the baby.
Watch Mission Majnu Trailer:
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