Rocketry: The Nambi Effect (2022)
Rocketry (2022) is the directorial debut of actor R Madhavan. I saw the Tamil version of the multilingual film, which was also simultaneously made in Hindi & English. I found the movie based on the real-life of ISRO scientist Mr S Nambi Narayanan to be well-made and enjoyable. It had a good dose of patriotism, which is the flavour of the times, it was central to the story and I liked the way Madhavan used the combination of national pride and guilt to narrate a powerful story that is sure to move the audience. I am happy to give the film a Ripe rating.
In recent decades, two scientists from the Indian space agency (ISRO) have captured the popular imagination of the people. The first was Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who was affectionately called the People’s President of India, he had an unblemished public record and was known for his integrity. The second was Mr S Nambi Narayanan, who is a world-leading rocket scientist known for his expertise in liquid propulsion technology. The latter who should’ve been a national hero for his inventions became infamously famous due to a fabricated and baseless espionage case filed against him by the state police of Kerala. It was widely believed the case had the hand of a foreign state, wanting to derail India’s space ambitions.
What makes Mr Nambi Narayanan ‘s life stand out from the other countless victims in India was his long struggle against the establishment and his victory — getting the Supreme Court of India to declare he was not guilty, making a state government pay compensation for the violations of its police and to cap it all get bestowed with India’s coveted civilian award of Padma Bhushan.
At the beginning of the film, while being interviewed on TV, Nambi (as he was addressed in the film) compliments the host for starting with a question about his guru Sri Vikram Sarabhai (father of the Indian space program) and not reducing his whole life to the spy case — this was an indication of the film to come. I was pleasantly surprised to find an Indian film taking this holistic approach and not yielding to the temptation to be sensational. This style allowed us to see the man in his entirety, and to understand the country’s space program in the context of the era in which the events happen. We travel along with Nambi, first to the USA, then to France, and later to Moscow working with the leading teams on rocket propulsion.
Then, all of a sudden Nambi gets arrested and tortured. This was the crucial part of the story which was handled with grace. I was expecting to see a long legal battle and the heroism of actor Madhavan in action while solving the case and defeating his enemies in style. Instead, we see the human angle of Nambi and the toll the episode takes on his family. Brilliant acting of this phase by veteran actress Simran, who plays the character of Meena, the wife of Nambi. Good performance as well by Misha Ghoshal who played the role of Nambi’s daughter. Most of the other casts were good picks as well for the characters they played.
This story was about a ‘real’ rocket scientist, so you had to discuss complex science and inventions. The first half was a bit slow as it had to assemble the parts, fuel the tank and get ready. Once ignited, the second half quickly blasts into space and there was no looking back. In many places, there were signatures of the director, like the two-second blurred image that comes before every section — kind of a trailer to what’s going to happen next. The dialogues were to the point, with no lengthy monologues. It was a nice touch to transition from actor Madhavan playing Nambi to showing the real Mr Nambi Narayanan in the climax sequence.
Indian public can be accused to care little about its true heroes (like scientists) and at the same, it can be nasty when it comes to those who it considers ‘enemies’, Rocketry shows us both are part of the same coin and that is India. Don’t miss this film.
Originally published at https://venkatarangan.com on July 1, 2022.