Rocketry—The Nambi Effect in a word, is stunning

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R. Madhavan with Simran in Rocketry—The Nambi Effect. Photo: Raindrop Media

At base level, I would hesitate to call this one a true biopic: we are not shown how Nambi Narayanan, the ISRO scientist whose professional life this stunning movie covers, was born, raised, educated, had got married and so on. The movie starts off with the beginning of his bad times (on November 30, 1994) and goes into flashback. At spurts, it comes back to the present, as a TV station is interviewing the physically-frail but mentally irrefragable Nambi, and the man interviewing him (in the Hindi version only) is Shah Rukh Khan.

Yes, R. Madhavan (I will skip the initial from now on for convenience!) has taken months of pain in the conception and execution of this quasi-masterpiece. It has been shot, for starters, in different versions, with some cast members like Rajit Kapur too changing as per the versions.

Nambi Narayanan (Madhavan himself) is a brilliant brain who mixes intelligence, rare acumen and vision with a sound business sense where the nation is paramount and simple things like overlooking minor moralities for a bigger objective are a part of his psyche.

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He thus makes shrewd use of his scholarship in solid fuels abroad to persuade a scientist he adores, Crocco (Vincent Riotta) to teach and guide him in liquid fuel technology. When his colleague Unni (Sam Mohan), called later to France to help out in a crucial scientific angle, loses his three year-old son, Nambi hides it from him until his work is fully accomplished. Even back home, he is quite unworldly and barely demonstrative in his affection for his wife and family and does not have decent time for them and their needs, though he is obviously very fond of them.

On the professional front, though, his dedication is exemplary and, when combined with his expertise, yields richer dividends than would have been possible, especially in the matter of international participation. However, all things undergo a 180 degree spin when he is framed for giving out national secrets to Pakistan, beaten and tortured, and imprisoned for 50 days.

The subsequent reprieve (due to CBI investigations) and clean chit by the Supreme Court comes at a great personal and professional cost to him, and almost three decades down, the culprits of this crime against him are still unknown!

All these facts could have been narrated in a linear manner, but Madhavan chooses not to do so, so as to heighten the dramatic impact. The intermittent sequences showing Madhavan as an aged Nambi (he is 80 today!) narrating his story to Shah Rukh Khan are indeed movingly written and conceptualized.

Not being privy to how many sequences here are dramatized or fictionalized (and how much), all I can say is that the biggest highlight of the narration remains, inarguably, the sequence where Unni meets Nambi in jail and what happens there. If fictionalized even in part, this is indeed a magnificent piece of writing, filming and acting.

A film on a technical science like rocketry needs to get a shade technical when needed, but it is here that Madhavan’s writing, without neglecting the essential (as in truly essential!) jargon, should have gone simpler. A web series like Rocket Boys had space and time for these things, and yet they made it audio-visually easier. Of course, an outright mainstream movie like 2019’s Mission Mangal was all about easily-comprehensible lingo, so Madhavan should have struck a midway tone.

Apart from this small point, which does not make much difference to viewers giving prime importance to the story, Madhavan and co-writers do a truly flawless job. The last marriage sequence where Nambi receives good news amidst the taunts, the discovery of his wife’s illness earlier, the flirtation by the foreigner and Nambi’s polite retort to her, his final regret about not paying enough attention to his clan, and his breaking the news of Unni’s son’s demise to him are triumphs of screenwriting and direction and are truly amazing for a debut director. However, I personally feel that the over-the-top tenor of the final TV sequence could have been avoided or cut short.

The background score serves the purpose and the technical values, especially Sirsha Ray’s dazzling camerawork coupled with the VFX by Golden Square Media Works, Hive FX Studioz and Red Chillies.VFX, Ranjit and Prerna’s production design and Bijith Bala’s editing all go to towering heights.

And yet, all that brilliance is dwarfed by the magnificent turn by Madhavan himself. As especially the plump older middle-aged man with a paunch, he surpasses all his past performances to etch out a very real and human Nambi, something he continues as the aged avatar on TV. Even in his younger version, the actor is pitch-perfect.

Simran (best known to Hindi film buffs as the original Aankh maare song damsel from the 1996 Tere Mere Sapne) astounds as his traumatized wife. From the rest, Sam Mohan as Unni, Rajeev Ravindranathan as Param, Bhawsheel Singh as Sartaj Singh and Branka Petric as Crocco’s wife impress most. As for Shah Rukh Khan, ever since his bad times at the box-office began, I have always maintained that he continues to improve as an actor with every film. He vindicates that even here.

With Rocketry, Madhavan propels cinema high into the skies and exposes a sordid story of how a genius was almost destroyed by the system.

Rating: ****

Tricolour Films, Varghese Moolan Pictures & 27th Entertainment present Rocketry—The Nambi Effect Produced by: R. Madhavan, Sarita Madhavan, Varghese Moolan & Vijay Moolan  Directed by: R. Madhavan  Written by: R. Madhavan with Anjali Nair, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, Sreedevi Krishnan,  Sukhmani Sadana  & Rahul Pandey Music: Divakar Subramaniam, Sam C. S., Nate Cornell & Billy Dawson Starring: R. Madhavan, Simran, Rajit Kapur, Muralidaran, Misha Ghoshal, Shyam Renganathan, Karthik Kumar, Amaan, Dinesh Prabhakar, Ron Donachie, Phyllis Logan, Vincent Riotta, Branka Petric, Sriram Parthasarathy, Rajeev Ravindranathan, Sam Mohan, Bhawsheel Singh, Sp. App: Shah Rukh Khan & others

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