With little ISRO in Mission Mangal, kaho na PR hain...

With little ISRO in Mission Mangal, kaho na PR hain...

A scene from 'Mangal Mission'.

India’s first space film ‘Mission Mangal,’ released on Independence Day, is more masala than science saga. That should not come as a shock to anyone who has closely observed its PR campaign.

In most interviews and tweets in the run-up to the release, stars used words such as masala”, “fun”, and “entertainer” and gave away the tone of the film. Perhaps some grumbling is in order: ‘Mission Mangal’ had also marketed itself as a homage to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO),  whose scientists have firmly established India’s position in the space race.

One interview with TV anchor Arnab Goswami saw him and Akshay Kumar take on The New York Times for a derisive cartoon it had published about the Mangalyaan mission in 2013.

Everything hinted the audiences would see at least close resemblances of the Bengaluru scientists, and not fictional scientists with fictional melodramas completely unrelated to the Mars mission. However, this may not entirely be the fault of the filmmakers.

ISRO doesn’t easily let its scientists talk to anyone. Even when journalists get hold of the personal numbers of the scientists, they are told to route their queries through the PR office.

In fact, no actor in Mangalyaan met any of the scientists. There was even a joke about this. When the women stars met popular Youtuber Prajakta Koli for a promotional interview, Tapsee Pannu joked she had practised for her role by keeping a portrait of a scientist in her bedroom.

Vidya Balan, who plays one of the women scientists, told Showtime: “ISRO is a high-security place and it’s not easy to go there and do research.” Kirti Kulhari, who plays another scientist, was keen to see the campus. “We are so mad at our producers for not taking us to ISRO to shoot even once. ISRO people don’t allow anyone in their office only, man. Maybe after watching this picture, ISRO is going to be like, ‘You know what? Let’s invite them finally’,” she says.

But there was a convenient point of reference for director Jagan: his elder sister Sujatha Krishna, a scientist at ISRO. The cast had to make do with second-hand knowledge from him.

Vidya’s character Tara Shinde in particular shares her characteristics with Sujatha. Both, for instance, toggle smoothly between religion and science.

Sujatha’s day spans from making lunch boxes for her kids, wearing the scientist’s helmet at work, and finally worrying about what to eat for dinner; so does Tara’s.
As part of the preparation for the film, Vidya was in touch with Sujatha. 

An often-repeated sentence from the promotions is, “Gender doesn’t make a scientist, science does.” It closely mirrors something Sujatha told Vidya: “At ISRO, we are not male or female scientists, we are scientists.”