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Movie Review: Mission Majnu (2023)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Mission Majnu on Netflix

Not much thought went into Mission Majnu, but the filmmakers probably figured they didn’t need to bother. Slap together a bunch of cliches from the historical patriotic genre playbook that’s so popular in Bollywood right now, and voilà! — Mission Majnu.

The film kicks off its spy story with a soapy romance set in mid-1970s Pakistan. Humble tailor Tariq (Sidharth Malhotra) falls for a stunningly gorgeous, blind woman Nasreen (Rashmika Mandanna). They get married over the objections of her father, who owns a garment shop that makes military uniforms and therefore knows just how little Tariq earns. Nevertheless, love prevails.

Little do Nasreen and her father know that Tariq is actually Amandeep Singh — an Indian spy who’s been living in Pakistan for an indeterminate period of time. We know very little about Tariq/Amandeep other than his father was a traitor, and so the son became a spy as a kind of penance for Dad’s misdeeds. His instructor at the academy R.N. Kao (Parmeet Sethi) — who serves for a time as India’s RAW chief — says Amandeep was the best student he’d ever had.

Amandeep is tasked with finding out information about Pakistan’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program. The film opens by saying that Pakistan started developing nukes in response to losing the war with India in 1971, painting Pakistan as over-reactionary sore losers. Moments later, the narrator clarifies that actually, Pakistan didn’t start its nuclear program until after India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974 with Operation Smiling Buddha.

This is par for the course in Mission Majnu. India’s actions are always justified even when they are problematic, and any politicians who think about engaging in diplomacy with Pakistan are naïve wimps. Likewise, Pakistan is portrayed as fundamentally deceitful, and their sweets aren’t as good as Indian sweets. No level of insult is too petty.

With a viewpoint rooted in such simplistic nationalism, there can be no question as where Amandeep’s loyalties lie. Duty to country obviously has to win. There’s no tension or moral conflict regarding his marriage to Nasreen, unlike the emotional tug-of-war the main character faces in the much better historical spy drama Raazi (which came out back when movies with political nuance were still acceptable).

Nasreen isn’t much of a character. As written, she exists to give a Amandeep a reason to be emotionally conflicted (even though he’s not), but to never get in his way. Nasreen is perpetually smiling and supportive, grateful that someone was willing to marry her despite her blindness. She’s aware that her husband keeps secrets from her but she doesn’t press him about it, despite the enormous cost she (unknowingly) pays for those secrets.

Any intrigue in the story happens at a national level. Israel is just as worried about Pakistan developing a nuclear weapon as India and has its own spies on the case. But if Israel is mistaken about where the test is happening and bombs the wrong site, India will be on the receiving end of retaliation from Pakistan. Therefore, it’s imperative that India’s spies — which include Aslam (Sharib Hashmi) and Raman Singh (Kumud Mishra) in addition to Amandeep — get the correct location. But even this crisis is handled in a cheesy manor, with imminent destruction being averted just as a countdown from ten reaches one.

Malhotra is quite hammy in Mission Majnu. He plays up his “aw shucks” simple tailor act while goading Pakistan’s generals into bragging about the nuke program, then furrowing his brow and looking concerned when they divulge useful intelligence — as though they wouldn’t notice his abrupt change in demeanor mid-conversation. When Raman Singh shaves his beard and ditches the Muslim scholar garb he’s been wearing for ten years, no one in town cares. And don’t get me started on Aslam’s ridiculous method for reaching for a phone when assassins are after him.

Mission Majnu was cobbled together from tropes and cliches we’ve seen a million times before. Give the movie about as much thought as the filmmakers did — none at all.

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