The Vaccine War Review: Nana Patekar adds value to Vivek Agnihotri's didactic yet enriching journey of Indian scientists in Covid
The Vaccine War
The film traces the journey of the Indian Council of Medical Research in to battle against Covid-19 and the efforts of the medical department in the development of Covaxin during the pandemic in India.
- Vivek Agnihotri
- Nana Patekar,
- Pallavi Joshi,
- Anupam Kher
- Medical thriller
The Vaccine War is indeed another thought-provoking fiction coming from filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri but it leaves no room for self-judgement. The bio-science film from start to end seems to be centered around a motive of boosting the image of the establishment during and after the development of indigenous Covaxin. The film is an attempt to make Indians proud of being ‘Atma nirbhar’ and to have ingenious female scientists while undermining the role of media and foreign vaccine makers. The film is an embellishment to Balram Bharghava’s book Going Viral but through provocateur and highly opinionated filmmaker’s creatives.
The medical thriller is narrated seamlessly in 12 chapters focussing on a mysterious pneumonia-like illness from Wuhan, the detection of the first case to the development of the homegrown vaccine in record time. It takes the audience through the brave journey of India’s Apex medical research organisation, the Indian Council Of Medical Research during the pandemic. It puts the spotlight on Director General Balram Bhargava(Nana Patekar), National Institute of Virology Director General Priya Abraham(Pallavi Joshi), fellow scientists and their challenges. And leaves Bharat Biotech, the private company founded by Krishna Ella that manufactured Covaxin, largely unacknowledged.
The film sets a poignant yet didactic tone from the very first scene when it metaphorically describes the state of a scientist during the pandemic-imposed lockdown. It comes full circle at the end when scientists are considered no less than war soldiers. In the first half, the director draws attention to the intricacies of science with heavy jargon, which is certainly difficult for the common man to understand, however, it may be done intentionally to tickle one’s cognitive thinking. The tense phone calls, emergency meetings and crucial tests in laboratories set an intense narrative.
The director lays down a strong foundation with endearing and layered characters. An introverted, workaholic yet sensitive Bhargava, highly emotional and soft-hearted Priya and their camaraderie will melt your heart. The vicious Rohini Singh Dhulia (Raima Sen), who constantly tries to intercept the task of creating the Covaxin vaccine through partisan reports and videos. Scientists Nivedita Gupta(Girija Oak) and Pragya Yadav(Nivedita Bhattacharya), who struggle to balance their family and professional lives, he uses the treatment of Vidya Balan’s Mission Mangal to add a women empowerment angle. The theories like coronavirus leaked from the Wuhan lab and bio-war are dealt with humour that lands flat.
The second half tends to become stretchy with quite unnecessary scenes in order to add depth to characters but doesn’t work. Shankh Rajadhyaksha’s loose editing is to be blamed for losing interest in the latter half, however, Udaysingh Mohite’s cinematography especially in forest scenes hooks you back. The music by Rohit Sharma, Vanraj Bhatia, Swapnil Bandodkar and Shreya Kaul, beautifully depicts the rediscovery of India. A special mention to a background score of a Covid-afflicted human gasping for breath when the virus was viewed through a microscope feels like the lightening of horrific memories of COVID-19 times.
Nana Patekar’s comeback after a hiatus feels effortless as he gets into the skin of the character like a perfect mould. Pallavi Joshi certainly is the show-stealer with her nuanced performance with immaculate diction and expressions. Raima Sen is equally convincing as a conniving journalist who you will want to see more. Nivedita, Girija and other cast members are good as supporting cast. Anupam Kher makes his presence felt with what little screen time he gets.
Undoubtedly, The Vaccine War is an important film but only to understand science and scientists’ jobs. The film has several touching moments, however, the press conference towards the penultimate stage stands out. It definitely reminds you of the horrific tragedies of the pandemic in India but with a one-sided perspective. Nevertheless, we need more such kind of films which tests intellect and triggers discussion.