The year is 1995. An earnest IAS officer and engineer’s efforts to raise India’s stature in the geo-political arena suffers a huge setback. A victim of politicking and short-sightedness, Ashwat Raina (John Abraham) finds himself made a scapegoat. His wish for India to achieve global nuclear power status appears to be lost. Raina is also carrying the burden of bringing glory to the memory of his deceased patriot father.

Patriotism is writ large over Abhishek Sharma’s film (which he’s written along with Saiwyn Quadros and Sanyuktha Chawla), but it rings hollow. As the title tells us, this is a film about the nuclear tests conducted by India in Pokhran in 1998. Raina’s journey continues despite his suspension when the principal secretary (Boman Irani) to the Prime Minister of India calls on him to restart the mission.

Raina sets about handpicking a team and putting in place a blueprint to covertly execute the nuclear tests. The team comprises scientists, space specialists, army officers and intelligence agents, including the glamorous captain Ambalika (Diana Penty). Bollywood strokes like this make Parmanu less relatable and somewhat silly. Silly is also the word you‘d use to describe this mission, which is a mix of fact and fiction, and therefore comes across as ridiculously amateur at times. Sharma shows the enemy watching every move through satellite images; only the Army men retain some amount of dignity.

Some of the key actors are painted with quirks—one with phobias, another who is forgetful—that amount to nothing. The postscript credits the real-life architects of this muscle-flexing “achievement", APJ Kalam and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and cocks a snook at the Americans for their colossal intelligence failure (under the Bill Clinton government). Sorry, still no goose-bumps. Blame it on over-explanation and Sharma’s over-reliance on Hollywood thriller tropes. The combination is mismatched, forsaking the pace and frenzy needed to build anticipation of a ticking time bomb.

Abraham goes all-out in portraying the sincerity and blinkered nationalism of Raina, but the character feels two-dimensional and flat. As Raina’s astrophysicist wife, Sushma, Anuja Sathe adds some wholesomeness. The actors forming Raina’s core team range from competent to comical.

Sluggish and absurd (especially the American actors), with an ancillary plot about Raina’s personal life, the film finally takes us through to 11 May, 1998. When the blasts send tremors through the desert, all you feel is your eardrums suffering from high-decibel distress.

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