On November 13, 1989, 232 miners got trapped in India’s first coal mine in Raniganj after a crack triggered by a blast led to the flooding of the mine. Out of these, six perished, 161 were evacuated immediately, and the rest took shelter at a high point inside the mine. When almost everyone lost hope, Jaswant Singh Gill, a young engineer from the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad saved the day with his non-conventional approach and courage. He designed an iron capsule and dropped it inside by digging a new borehole to rescue 65 miners. Now, director Tinu Suresh Desai recreates his heroic feat, which needs to be told to the young generation, in this one-dimensional film that perhaps only exists because Akshay Kumar wanted to play one more real-life hero.
The star mostly shines in roles that require him to channel his inherent simplicity and unalloyed optimism. Here again, he delivers an honest performance as the sincere Sardar who earned the sobriquet of Capsule Gill after the success of the high-risk mission.
But his presence also limits the scope of the subject. In times of privatisation, the film inadvertently reminds of the role of public sector undertakings in the lives of the common Indian. In fact, when Gill, after a lot of struggle, talks to the trapped miners through a borehole, it metaphorically provides us a sense of the empathetic conversation that used to be between the PSUs and their grassroot employees. The film does go into the pro-management and anti-management conversation among miners but keeps it shallow. Towards the end, Gill describes the mission as ‘our’ success, but the way it is mounted, it remains an Akshay Kumar show.
Director: Tinu Suresh Desai
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Parineeti Chopra, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Ravi Kishan, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Varun Badola, Pavan Malhotra
Duration: 134 minutes
Storyline: Based on real-life hero Jaswant Singh Gill, an engineer who led a challenging rescue mission to save trapped miners from a flooded coal mine
To his credit, Desai doesn’t waste time on the build-up and takes us straight to the accident and the rescue mission that ensues. The detailing of the mining work and the operation is basic, and the way it has been shot takes us back to the analogue era. Even the colour scheme of emotions belongs to the period when black-and-white was the dominant emotion; the good guys and the characters with a vested interest could be seen from a distance. Desai wants to underline that the villains of the piece are the parochial Bengalis who don’t want the North Indian hero to succeed, but in the process, he panders to corny stereotypes.
Also, a film about mining strangely scratches only the surface and refuses to address lapses in safety measures and the impact of trade unionism in any detail. And, in its euphoria to celebrate Gill’s guts, the film almost forgets the six miners who lost their lives in the accident.
The insipid treatment of the subject is uplifted by a strong support cast that specialises in crafting good melodrama. In the likes of Sudhir Pandey, Jameel Khan, Ravi Kishan, Varun Badola, Kumud Mishra, Pawan Malhotra Divyendu Bhattacharya, Rajesh Sharma, Arif Zakaria and Virendra Saxena, the film has a galaxy of competent actors who can effortlessly generate an emotional swell. But as it has to be a one-man show, each of them is clearly posited only to add muscle to the central character. Lest one forget, there is Parineeti Chopra as well to add one more ring of halo around Akshay. However, the most poignant moment of the film comes when the pet dog of one of the trapped miners comes to their rescue.
Mission Raniganj is strictly for those who want to see the glass completely full.
Mission Raniganj: The Great Bharat Rescue is currently running in theatres