The year is 1994. The camera zooms down on a residence in a quiet neighborhood somewhere in Kerala. Without cutting to another scene, the camera gets into street view and enters the house where a small but evidently happy family is discussing its plans for the day. A few verbal exchanges follow between the characters before the camera and, still without cutting, the shot moves to find the main protagonist—Nambi Narayanan.
The meticulousness of the long opening shot showing the close bonding between Nambi’s family and his humorous nature are representative of the entire film. Actor R. Madhavan, who plays the main character of Nambi, is the Swiss knife in the movie “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” which he also writes, produces and directs. Rocketry is a biographical drama dedicated to Nambi Narayanan, a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization, who was wrongfully accused of espionage and made a villain by the media. The movie was filmed simultaneously in Hindi, Tamil and English languages with different actors in different versions. I watched the Tamil version on Amazon Prime.
The day we are introduced to Nambi Narayanan and his family is the darkest day of their lives. Nambi and the Narayanan family head out to their respective works, completely unaware of the trouble brewing around them, only to find that the family’s name has been dragged through the soil by the allegations against Nambi. They are scorned by their own relatives, shouted at by random passersby and even physically abused while Nambi is forcibly taken into custody like a criminal.
In custody, Nambi is given three-degree to make him confess to all the allegations against him. But the determined Nambi stays put despite the excruciating torture and humiliation. Nambi’s unrelenting passion for his work and his nation is the entire theme of the film which uses different timelines to tell his story.
The timeline of Rocketry spans from 1969 when Nambi is accepted as a graduate student in Princeton University to 2019, when he receives his Padma Bhushan.
We see Nambi transition from a young, carefree student with the ability to play around with words and make people instantly like him, turn into a battered and bruised man, wearied by the conspiracies against him. But he never tires and never loses hope. That is how Nambi is able to exonerate himself, and go on to develop the Vikas rocket engine and also help India with its first successful Mars mission.
Although Rocketry is a biographical film meant to tell the audience about the heroics of Nambi Narayanan, it does not turn him into a superhero. Nambi—highly talented, quick-witted and passionate—is as human as the rest of us. R. Madhavan excels in portraying the real life hero on screen with utmost conviction and honesty.
The film’s script throws around a lot of science and tech, which would probably make a lot of sense to astronomy geeks, but is not overwhelming for the normal audience as well. This is what I love about R. Madhavan’s filmmaking. He does not overdo anything as an actor or a director. In fact, this debut director has the maturity of someone seasoned at directing films for decades.
Rocketry’s runtime of 2 hrs 37mins feels deserving of Nambi’s story. The cast and crew sync with the Nambi’s story and each takes upon themselves the onus of telling it to the world. The film also features cameo appearances in an important role by Shahrukh Khan (Hindi and English) and Suriya (Tamil) which shows the support the medium-budget film got from the Indian film industries.
Who should watch it?
Even for those not very interested in science and history, Rocketry is a serious drama that can be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good film. Also as Amazon Prime is stingy with its new releases, Rocketry is probably the best new film there is to watch on the OTT platform right now.