The photo of saree-clad women crying in happiness, hugging each other after success of Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), with gajaras so bright that one could almost smell the jasmine, went viral on social media and melted everybody’s heart.
Not only the mission marked a major milestone in India’s space journey, making India first in the world to have successfully completed the Mars mission in first go, but also, demonstrated for billions of Indians that days of colonial underdevelopment are behind them. With its relatively small budget (just 11 per cent of NASA’s Mars mission), the mission became an example of success in “India-style”.
The mission which became a matter of national pride also validated that India could move ahead despite its noisy democracy, extreme diversity and a confusing mix of modern and traditional.
The practice of ISRO chief praying at Tirumala temple before launch of PSLV C-46, or the fact that beautiful women in sarees with gajaras, who are mothers, daughters, wives, in their full feminine glory, can also be a successful rocket scientist broke the divide between modern and traditional, elite and subaltern, scientific and spiritual.
It is this warmth of old comforts in confusing modern machine-age that is captured by the movie Space MOMs: A Celebration of Girl Power, A Celebration of India.
The movie shows the challenges faced by these women behind the Mangalyaan and how they overcome them.
Radha Bharadwaj's feature film, inspired by MOM, tells the story of normal, middle class working mothers who also happen to be rocket scientists.
Starring Bhavna Pani, Swati Das, M.D. Pallavi, Mahesh Dattani, Jayant Dwarkanath, Ananda Shankar Jayant, the movie shows the journey of the women who are ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
A United States-based Indian filmmaker, Radha Bharadwaj, didn’t just want to make a movie on the MOM, but on India. In an interview to The Hindu, she says, “I had been wanting to make a film celebrating India, for several years. Living in the West, I was concerned at the incessant negative portrayal of Indians in Western media and entertainment.”
Bharadwaj says that she chose to not have stars in my film. “I wanted the story of the mission, its everyday women and men, to be the stars.”
Bhardwaj got notified by ISRO in February 2016 that they would support the making of the film film and put her in touch with several women engineers and with their former chairman, Dr Radhakrishnan.
“They were supportive and down to earth; it struck me how each of the women was at the same time ordinary and extraordinary. That revelation became a big part of my script. I learned how rooted they are to our culture and heritage. And how much that heritage has given them strength to complete their mission,” she says.
Bhardwaj also adds that she got inspiration from these women to fight against the “Bollywood Goliaths” as she is locked in a fight against movie Mission Mangal with Akshay Kumar and Vidya Balan. Bhardwaj says that she had shared the screenplay to Atul Kasbekar in 2016 with a non-disclosure agreement, who passed it on to others, and she finally learnt about Mission Mangal through press.
Bhardwaj is determined to fight the case. “I remind myself that if one’s actions and intentions have been pure, even underdogs can prevail,” she says.
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