Inside ‘Mission Mangal’: An Interview with Akshay Kumar

Mission Mangal 1
[Photo Credit: Fox Star Studios]

Raise your hand if you knew that in 2013, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). Raise your hand if you knew that not only were we the first Asian country to reach the big red planet, but we were the first country to do it on the first try. Now keep your hand raised if you knew that the Hollywood film “Gravity” (2013) cost more to make than MOM (leave it to brown people to get a bang for our buck).

Brown Girl Magazine recently had the privilege of interviewing Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar on his newest film, “Mission Mangal.” Directed and co-written by Jagan Shakti, “Mission Mangal” tells the empowering story of India’s first interplanetary expedition and all the intelligent men AND women who were a part of the process.

What was your initial reaction when you heard/read the script for “Mission Mangal?”

When our director, Jagan, narrated the script, he told me astonishing facts that really opened my eyes. I was drawn to ‘Mission Mangal’ instantly because the fact that India launched a satellite mission to Mars in the quickest amount of time and with the smallest budget in comparison to NASA, China and Russia. It was certainly a story that needed to be told. As his sister works at ISRO as a scientist, Jagan had a clearer picture about the characters, their portrayal and the entire mission per say.

I was extremely proud that I was chosen to play the character of Rakesh Dhawan and to represent one of the biggest moments on India’s space history on screens. What made me even more compelled to be a part of the film was the fact that this was a real story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, achieving huge feats and inspiring generations to dream big. :)

Can you describe the research you did for the role, regarding mission control and management, space missions, perhaps speaking with the scientists at ISRO, etc. How long did it take to prepare for — and get in the headspace of — this role?

I got to learn a lot about space science thanks to this role, as I play the Mission Director. Besides updating my vocabulary with scientific terms like ‘trajectory,’ the meaning of which I still don’t understand (chuckles), there wasn’t really any special preparation required for the role as such. Like with all my films, I followed my director’s instructions as he’s the one person who understands the film better than any of us.

I definitely didn’t know much about India’s Mars mission prior to the film. I didn’t realize just how magnificent the team at ISRO’s achievements were until I learned about the facts. It was a truly an overwhelming experience to sink into the character, even though I have done over 150 films.

We were bringing to the screen one of the proudest moments in Indian space history, and we had to be extremely responsible in our portrayal of the scientists, as we wanted to do absolute justice to their achievement, innovation and genius. Jagan had immense clarity, and all my co-stars did their job so well that it inspired me to put my best foot forward, too.

Mission Mangal 2
[Photo Credit: Fox Star Studios]

You’re sharing the screen with so many powerful, outspoken females; do you think this will help to change Indian cinema’s male-centric views/priorities?

In ‘Mission Mangal,’ we were one big team and learned so much. Being placed in the shoes of a space scientist allowed us to investigate a completely different profession, and a small glimpse at how hard-working the people in this industry are.

‘Mission Mangal’ is neither a male-centric or woman-centric film — central to the film is the focus of having an empowered mind, where every human being has the opportunity to think with unlimited possibilities to achieve unlimited feats.

All my female co-stars in ‘Mission Mangal’ have incredible films to their own credit and they have carried forward their wonderful body of work through this film as well.

Yes, the film breaks gender stereotypes by establishing that women can excel in all kinds of professions including science, but ‘Mission Mangal’ is a film that is character driven as opposed to gender.

Was there anything in the “Mission Mangal” story or anything from your real life that inspired you to help bring awareness to more women in strong, lead roles?

I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by such incredible women in my life, be it my mother, my wife or my mother-in-law, and even my 6-year-old daughter. All of them have been of immense value addition to my life and their experiences have inspired me as each day they contribute to my growth on a personal and professional level.

I’m all about fem-force, and while ‘Mission Mangal’ isn’t just about the woman empowerment message, I am proud to be in a film where there are six lead stars, of which five are women.

Like in “Gold” and “Padman,” you’ve starred in multiple films that tell the inspiring true stories of Indian figures. Why was telling the “Mission Mangal” story important to you, and what did it mean to you as an actor and as an individual? And why tell this story now?

I truly believe in the subject matters of the films I pursue and take on those projects hoping they will have an impact, which I believe they can. I have only been investing myself in projects that I am deeply passionate about, even when others may be skeptical about them. Films I have done with that mentality including ‘Toilet – Ek Prem Katha‘ and ‘Padman’ are a result of this mentality, and they were so worth the risk.

Indian cinema has taken on a more serious tone in the past few years, and I believe it has been for the better, because we are focusing more on the reality of Indian life. We are a very high achieving nation, with so many amazing stories to tell. ‘Mission Mangal’ particularly focuses on a such an amazing true story that is timely and an inspiration. The film, I believe, will strike a chord with the young and old alike. I would love for parents to take their young children to watch this film and maybe we will have more children aspiring to be scientists.

You’ve had a long and storied career in the Bollywood industry, what’s the main difference in Hindi cinema now versus 30 years ago?

Cinema is a reflection of the society, and is bound to be influenced by the changes brought about in our society. Needless to say that Indian society has drastically evolved in a plethora of ways in the last three decades, which is also reflected in the ways our films are being produced and consumed. The content of our cinema has expanded to embrace new perspectives and fresh story ideas, which are broadening not only the appeal of our cinema to wider audiences but attempting to spotlight issues, themes and topics that have traditionally been deemed taboo, niche or more suited to parallel cinema. Our industry has certainly become more inclusive and progressive to reflect the zeitgeist.

Our industry has also become more democratic insofar as audience participation. It is difficult to produce a film that have problematic implications and get away with it conveniently. Social media has done some good in democratizing the media industry giving everyone a microphone to express their thoughts, concerns and ideas.

[Read Related: How ‘Photograph’ Captures Class and Identity: An Interview with Director Ritesh Batra]

This Independent Day weekend, let’s remind ourselves that patriotism is not violence, it’s not hatred, and it’s not prejudiced. It’s working together and empowering each other independent of caste, creed, and religion, and creating something that as a nation we will be proud to show our kids one day.

“Mission Mangal” is now playing in theaters.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi on ‘Ghoomer’

“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.

“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.

[Read Related: 5 Tidbits About Bollywood Royalty Abhishek Bachchan For His 41st Birthday!]

Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.

And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.

Take a look!

The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global. 

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

‘Thank You For Coming’ Unapologetically Begs the Answer to a Very Important Question

It’s never a dull moment with your girl gang; some shots and conversations about sex, right? If you agree, you’re in for a treat with Karan Boolani’s directorial venture, “Thank You For Coming,” which had its world premiere at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival. This coming-of-age story unapologetically begs the answer to a very important question: Why should women be left high and dry in bed?


Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) is a successful, 32-year-old, Delhi food blogger who makes a huge revelation on her 30th birthday: She’s never experienced an orgasm. This dirty little secret (no pun intended!) has now become detrimental to her self-esteem. She feels so down and out that she even accepts the proposal of a very boring suitor, Jeevan-ji (Pradhuman Singh Mall).

[Read Related: Meet Fashion Blogger and Media Star Dolly Singh]

Thank You For Coming

But, it’s not like she hasn’t tried. Kanika’s been a monogamist since her teenage years, starting with puppy love in high school — unfortunately, their sexual endeavors coined her as “thandi” (cold) by her first boyfriend — all the way to dating in her adulthood. But, regardless of how great any relationship was, nobody had her achieve the big O. All until the night of her engagement with Jeevan, when the drunk bride-to-be leaves the party for her hotel room and gets into bed. What follows is her very first orgasm. Ghungroo, finally, tute gaye! But, with whom?

The morning after, an initially-satisfied Kanika works herself into a frenzy of confusion and frustration as she makes her way through the list of potential men who could’ve been in her room the night before.

Thank You For Coming

Was it one of her exes? She’d simply invited them to come to wish her well.

Was it her fiance?

Or, God forbid, was it actually the rabdi-wala (ice cream man)?

Boolani takes a straight-forward and on-the-nose approach to drive the point home. There are no cutting corners, no mincing words, and no hovering over “taboo topics.” The dialogue is raunchy, the characters are horny, and no one is apologetic. It’s important for a film like “Thank You For Coming” to be so in-your-face because the subject of women achieving orgasms can’t really be presented in any other way. Anything more conservative in the narrative would feel like the makers are being mindful of addressing something prohibited. And there is no room for taboos here.

But, there is room for a more open conversation on the reasons why many women feel the need to suppress their sexual needs in bed; how generally, women have been brought up to be the more desirable gender and hence not cross certain boundaries that would make them appear too brash. The fight for the right of female pleasure would have been a little more effective if the modesty around the topic was addressed. But, that doesn’t mean that the point is remiss.

The plot moves swiftly along, never lulling too long over everything that seems to be going wrong in Kanika’s life. “Thank You For Coming” is full of all the right tropes that belong in a comedic, masala film, too; the direction very seamlessly takes classic fixings like the abhorrent admirer (enter Jeevan-ji) and effectively plugs them into this contemporary feature that will remain perpetually relevant.

Thank You For Coming

And now, let’s come to the star of the show: the well-rounded characters.

Producer Rhea Kapoor has mastered the formula of a good chick flick and her casting is the magic touch. She’s got a knack for bringing together the right actors — cue, “Veere Di Wedding.” So, just when we think that it doesn’t get better than the veere, Kapoor surprises us with a refreshing trio — they’re modern, they’re rebellious, and they say it like it is. Thank you, Dolly Singh (Pallavi Khanna) and Shibani Bedi (Tina Das) for being the yin to Kanika’s yang — and for the bag full of sex toys your homegirl oh-so needed!

To complete Kanika’s story, we have her single mother, Miss. Kapoor, brilliantly portrayed by Natasha Rastogi. She is the face of a headstrong and self-assured matriarch and a symbol of the modern-day Indian woman. Rastogi’s character exemplifies the fact that with access to education, and a stable career, women do not need to mold their lives around men.

I love the fact that Miss. Kapoor is almost villainized by her own mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) in the film because she had a child out of wedlock in her yesteryears, she chooses to remain single, and she brings her boyfriends around the house to hang out with. But, there’s a point to be made here. The fact that Kanika’s mother is being antagonized just highlights that she is challenging the norms and pushing the envelope for what is socially acceptable for women. Miss. Kapoor definitely deserves an honorable mention.

Pednekar’s unexpected yet impeccable comic timing is the highlight of the entire film. Everything from being a damsel in sexual distress to a woman who unabashedly chases self-pleasure, Pednekar puts on a genuinely entertaining act for the audience. From being portrayed as a high-schooler to the 32-year-old, independent woman, Pednekar is fit for each role. Her naivety as a teen wins you over, as does her gusto as a full-blown adult with a broken ankle and some very messy relationships. This also speaks volumes about the versatility of her looks.

And, of course, Pednekar is not new to films that address social topics, but “Thank You For Coming” challenges her to balance Kanika’s droll with the responsibility of delivering a very important message to the viewers. Mission accomplished, Ms. Pednekar!

Thank You For Coming

“Thank You For Coming” is a through-and-through entertainer. Everything from the casting — a huge shout out to the rest of the supporting cast including Anil Kapoor, Shehnaaz Gill, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Gautmik, and Sushant Divkigar, without whom this roller coaster would have lacked the thrills — to the homey locations and even the glitz and glamor in the song sequences, they’re all perfect pieces to help drive home a powerful message: Smash patriarchy!

All images in this article are courtesy of TIFF.

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›