‘Mission Mangal’: Real vs Reel

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With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and successful launch of India’s second mission to the moon, now Bollywood is also set to make entry into this ‘space-age’. The trailer of this multi-starrer Mission Mangal which was released last week became the instant hit.

The movie claims to be a climactic presentation of India’s first mission to Mars also known as the Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM. This mission was appreciated globally as one of the most cost-effective missions to Mars and became the first country to be successful in inserting a satellite into the orbit of the Red Planet. The trailer shows a group of saree-clad women celebrating the successful launch of the satellite into the orbit and this seems to have been the inspiration of the film. At least, this is what official trailer and poster suggest.

If the film promises to deliver what is shown in the trailer, then ISRO scientists and space enthusiasts shall definitely be in shock in the movie hall as these will portray both the time-tested management practices and agency in poor light.

In the actual world, ISRO has well-organized procedures and protocols for taking decisions regarding choice of design, technology and configuration of space probes. Along with this, they also have an elaborate mechanism for assessing the failure and this is partly the secret of success of the organization. Blaming a person for failure or success is certainly not the ISRO style.

The movie also shows Akshay Kumar explaining fuel optimization in the mission to Mars with the example of puris being fried. The hero says, “is home science ki takneek se ham Mars tak jayenge.” This sequence shows the killing of two birds in just a sequence. First, this shows how the mission was made cost-effective and second, women are often considered as so-called masters of ‘home science’. This simple kitchen-example solves the complex problem of fuel optimization at ISRO.

In the movie, Akshay Kumar seems to be in-charge of everything – from securing funding to organizing teams and finally giving a thumbs-up for the launch. In reality, ISRO doesn’t work like this. Each project is headed by a project director and assisted by several deputy directors and backed by the management office. All the deputy directors are assisted by dozens of teams. Each major decision is taken collectively by all the directors. The final go-ahead is given by the Launch Authorization Board.

The role of women engineers and scientists is also a dominant theme of the trailer. Even MOM had several women at the leadership role, while the positions of project director and program director were held by male scientists. Well, one can ignore this fact as this movie will inspire millions of young girls to take up science and engineering. But the question before us still remains the same…. What to expect from Mission Mangal movie?

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