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Rocketry: The Nambi Effect Review

July 01, 2022 17:41 IST
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There's wisdom to be found in an unfairly treated man's short and sweet concluding words -- a nation is only as great as our appreciation of the people who make it great, notes Sukanya Verma.

A scientist's enduring passion to make India a world class presence in space is reciprocated with infamy and disgrace. Not only does it stall India's space progress by significant years but also destroys an individual's credibility, career, psyche and personal life.

Except he perseveres and fights back until he is, finally, accorded the respect, distinction and compensation he rightly deserves.

The story has biopic written all over it.

R Madhavan felt so too, resulting in a passion project he writes, directs, produces and acts in.


In 1994, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist Nambi Narayanan was falsely implicated in a so-called spy scandal alleging he sold classified information to the neighbouring nation for tons of money -- a bogus piece of news, eventually, dismissed by the CBI, Supreme Court and our very own Prem Panicker whose reportage of the episode and its repercussions are far more layered, curious and telling than this movie.

The events of Rocketry: The Nambi Effect's inspiring true story are slyly bookended between a government that wronged him and a government that acknowledges the wrongdoing and rewards him handsomely for his contribution.

What nobody ever provides Narayanan with is closure.

But Rocketry isn't particularly complex to build on the ambiguity over the actual culprit or audacious enough to politicise it except toss a grateful carrot at the ruling powers.

Despite its all-too-neat suggestion of foreign forces at play and tendency to constantly overstate the genius as well as gross injustices, it cannot be denied that Madhavan's directorial debut is reeling in ambition.

He realises the actuality of the story is so dramatically potent on its own, he can barely conceal his excitement in a script that screams awe.

Whether he is negotiating technology aid from a Rolls Roys CEO with Partition-guilt in a cosy cottage in Scotland, proving MIT professor Ascher Shapiro's theory wrong to his Princeton teacher, discussing aerospace jargon with his Indian colleagues and French, contemplating lucrative job offers at NASA or talking shop with guru Vikram Sarabhai (Rajit Kapur in a tacky wig), everyone's reverential tone and wonderstruck eyes are designed to make us grasp what a wizard Nambi Narayanan is.

Even his ruthless actions are for the greater good of the country as a co-worker (a terrific Sam Mohan), from whom he withholds a tragic news, unpleasantly finds out.

Where Mission Mangal and Rocket Boys simplified science or made it intriguing enough for the layman to follow, Rocketry's technical incoherence is a complete contrast to its reams and reams of expository, emotional, dialogue.

A good deal of which are conveyed via Shah Rukh Khan, in a cameo that becomes so much more in his skin.

Those deeply felt eyes of a considerate listener and the empathy flowing through his measured voice, the moment between him and the actual Nambi Narayanan is when Rocketry pierces through the heart.

When the subject of celebration becomes an object of ugly politics, the feeling of victimisation is uncomfortably mutual.

Madhavan's ageing, quite like '70s masala movies, is make-up at its dated, clumsy best.

But his comfort in speaking liquid propulsions and cryogenic fuels is effortless as his understanding of cocksure vision and personal crusade.

As a film-maker, Madhavan's flair shows in Rocketry's meticulous casting (it's rare to see such lovely non-Indian talent in desi fare).

But the amateurish touches show every now and then.

In his overzealous excitement that needs to assert the heroism of its protagonist, some episodes bear the air of a James Bond thriller, others opt for the torture tropes of a typical Bollywood potboiler.

One of the biggest neglected aspects of Rocketry are Nambi Narayanan's brood.

The kids barely register.

And the post-espionage charges distress in the family while understandable, and feels hard to relate given how unfamiliar the bonds are.

As his traumatised significant other though, Simran is solid in the handful scenes she's allowed to shine. Although a scene of the ailing wife and her ostracised husband abandoned in the middle of the road is straight out of Mashaal.

It was over-the-top then. It is over-the-top now.

Though Rocketry is never always as well-made as it is well-intended, there's wisdom to be found in an unfairly treated man's short and sweet concluding words -- a nation is only as great as our appreciation of the people who make it great.

The man at the centre of the biopic believes it deeply even as the scene then cuts to him receiving the Padma Bhushan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's approving gaze.

The game of thrones is particularly ironic in the present political mood when skills and sincerity are unceremoniously overthrown in the lure of administrative greed.

Those wronged today must wait for a few decades for their share of glory.

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