The Vaccine War leans towards stoking nationalistic fervour but that shouldn't stop you from watching a film that is solemn about the Indian scientific community's achievement, notes Mayur Sanap.
What comes to mind when you think of a pandemic-inspired film?
Is it the health hazard to human population?
Is it the general breakdown of panic-filled society?
Or is it the sense of world crumbling in some strange ways?
COVID-19 propelled films and OTT series that have tried to depict the reality of these challenging times.
In Vivek Agnihotri's The Vaccine War, we see similar events, but it tells the story of hope.
It is about the optimism of a bunch of scientists who work in unison in the face of a chilling doomsday scenario.
The film opens with the nationwide lockdown in April 2020, with public activity at a complete standstill.
The story goes back a few weeks earlier when a deadly virus has just been discovered after multiple deaths begin to surface around the world.
As India stands at the brink of a rising epidemic, scientists prepare the battle to find out what they are dealing with.
'This is a war and we are all soldiers,' says Dr Balram Bhargava, played by Nana Patekar, who sets forth on a remarkable journey with scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology to create India's first vaccine against the coronavirus.
Agnihotri's political leaning is public knowledge, but here, he takes a surprisingly understated approach unlike his last two films, The Tashkent Files and The Kashmir Files.
He is mostly dignified with his homage to the scientific community, while also balancing the drama that is steeped in realism.
He champions a Nari Shakti message through a bullish team of women scientists working on the vaccine and highlights their strengths and struggles.
But despite its occasional noble intentions, the film does go overboard in some places. This is especially apparent in its third act when it goes with all guns blazing at the so-called tool-kit gang and the widespread of fake stories against the government and the dubious nature of Covaxin.
These scenes feature an hilariously over-the-top Raima Sen, who plays her manipulative journalist character with the antics of a daily soap vamp.
In its attempt to paint an honest and unflinching picture, the plot unravels too much in the climax to the point of excess. This robs the film of emotional weight that it was carrying all along.
Also, for a film that deals with dense subject matter, the lack of nail-biting tension or high stakes is disappointing.
This makes the almost three hour-long runtime feel stretched.
The onus is largely on its impressive cast who use their might to keep the dramatic urgency intact.
The technical merit works to the film's advantage as we constantly feel the gravity of this panic-filled world through its imagery.
Cameraman Udaysingh Mohite's tight close-ups capture the claustrophobia effectively, be it the emotional turmoil of a character or the lab where the vaccine is been created.
Nana Patekar's restrained act with touches of dry wit suits his part very well.
Girija Oak Godbole and Nivedita Bhattacharya play women juggling between home and duty, and both of them render poignant performances.
Anupam Kher does his bit to perfection in his brief appearance as a bureaucrat at the PMO.
pallavi Joshi impresses most as the tearfully sentimental chief scientist. Watch her in scenes as she tries to remain composed when Patekar slices her through his acerbic remarks. Joshi is simply brilliant as a woman-on-the-verge-of-rant, and comes up with the film's best act.
Overall, The Vaccine War is watchable if you can get over its excesses in some parts.
Sure, the film leans towards stoking nationalistic fervour, but that shouldn't stop you from watching a film that is solemn about the Indian scientific community's achievement.