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Mission Raniganj Review: A Missed Opportunity To Give Unsung Heroes Their Due

Mission Raniganj's lacklustre, unidimensional screenplay does a disservice to all its heroes, including Akshay Kumar.

Mission Raniganj Review: A Missed Opportunity To Give Unsung Heroes Their Due
Akshay Kumar in Mission Raniganj - The Great Bharat Rescue

Last Updated: 06.10 PM, Oct 06, 2023


THE good thing about rescue thrillers based on real life events is that in most instances you know exactly how the story ends. You are well prepared for the shocks in case you’re faint hearted. However, it is also its biggest affliction, since now, the only way a recreation of it can feel novel is if it allows you to live through those shocks, making the experience immersive. Director Tinu Suresh Desai’s Mission Raniganj recreates the catastrophe that befell the Mahabir Colliery in West Bengal’s Raniganj back in November 1989. With 71 miners stuck in the death trap of a flooded quarry leaking poisonous gas, their saviour became a turbaned messiah from Amritsar, Jaswant Singh Gill, an official of Coal India, played by who else but Akshay Kumar, Bollywood’s trusty commander-in-chief of the biopic machinery.

For the uninitiated, 65 of them were rescued, which undoubtedly was no mean feat, especially when set in the context of a corrupt system where even a button can’t be pressed without jumping through insurmountable red tape like circus monkeys. But Gill—both the real and the reel one—remained undeterred in the face of challenges that seem infuriatingly familiar, yet resolvable, since we all go in knowing the outcome.


The cracks, however, begin to show elsewhere, when the heightened drama, often frivolously written dialogues—which even bordered on comical with toony background music to boot—coupled with a lacklustre, unidimensional screenplay does a disservice to all its heroes, and not just Khiladi Kumar.

As much as the film pays homage to Capsule Gill, a moniker he earned in real life besides winning the Jeevan Raksha Padak, or the state’s highest bravery award in 1991, one must not forget that it is, after all, titled Mission Raniganj. The film owes its subjects more than just a motley bunch of talented actors, which includes popular faces like Ravi Kishan, Varun Badola, Veerendra Saxena, Pavan Malhotra, Rajesh Sharma, Jameel Khan, even Parineeti Chopra as Gill’s pregnant wife Nirdosh; the story deserves and demands that the real unsung heroes, who literally fuel our economy and die painful deaths with blackened lungs even to this day, be commemorated. And it is here that the screenplay falters tragically.

The film plants a towering North Indian man in the middle of a left-leaning Bengal, where the hackneyed lazy Bangali trope is played into rather facetiously, thereby reducing even Gill to a dull caricature of the man he truly was. Desai had the ripe opportunity to, quite literally, mine this story’s potential to interrogate the complex themes of systemic negligence and apathy towards our working classes surviving in inhumane conditions, and question narratives that continue to inform our political ecosystems founded on feudalism. Through his recreation of the events that unfold on screen, the filmmaker could have foregrounded the same continuum on which also stands the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the 1995 Firozabad trains collision, or even the ongoing sinking of Joshimath in Uttarakhand. However, what we are left with is a shallow iteration of an incident that deifies only one man, when it really is about collective human resilience in the face of impossible adversities.

Parineeti Chopra and Akshay Kumar in Mission Raniganj
Parineeti Chopra and Akshay Kumar in Mission Raniganj

There’s not much for Kumar to do, as Gill’s inner landscape remains largely unexplored, with the actor being handed a raw deal of parroting lines that are reminiscent of his government ad bashing tobacco consumption that plays right before the film. The two versions of Kumar seem to belong to the same sarkari universe, and you’re not the only one if you felt like he had slipped out of one to shimmy into the other. In one of the initial scenes, where the actor cuts through an anxious, agitated crowd of mine workers’ bereaved families, he even asks a character to trust the management in a way one would hear State spokies address a press conference. Maybe that was how it truly played out back in the day, but it never hurts to add a dash of sympathy to a fictional retelling of a calamity. Creative liberty, after all, must not be restricted to cheap parodies of real people.

The bits that really stir the waterworks, however, are the ones shot in the deep dark belly of the earth. As the poor men squabble like animals, fighting for food, air and their lives, some resort to fugitive violence towards others in moments of desperation and helplessness. But they overcome it all to become a formidable force, where each one of them pushes back against time, nature, even their destinies to emerge as winners on the other side.

Detail from the poster for Mission Raniganj
Detail from the poster for Mission Raniganj

There’s a hot-headed minister, a depraved contractor, a dishonest government official pitted against Gill and his band of virtuous men led by a nervous coal officer (Kumud Mishra), who seems to have invested all his acting chops into smoking cigarettes through the entirety of the film, leaving him with little room to do much else with his face.

Then there is Parineeti Chopra, who looks perfectly pretty and gritty in the two minutes that she is allotted. One wonders why she was there at all, besides to remind the audience of the boring old cliche of how brave women prop up the brave men in their lives, only to be rendered as nothing more than set pieces that are allowed to do just the bare minimum.

While the actors rescued each other on screen, their able shoulders could not rescue this film, which is more talk, less substance, and even lesser nuance.


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