Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is based on the life of famous Indian aerospace scientist Nambiar Narayanan. He was instrumental in developing the Vikas engine that was used for the first PSLV that India launched. As a senior official at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), he was in-charge of the cryogenics division. In 1994, he was charged with espionage and arrested. The charges against him were dismissed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in April 1996 and the Supreme Court of India declared him not guilty in 1998. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award by the Government of India, in 2019. Despite being given a clean chit by the courts and later being honored by the government, Nambi and his family had to bear the repercussions of being hounded by the media when the news first broke out. They were guilty in the eyes of the public and it wasn’t easy for them to get their goodwill back. More than anything else. Rocketry highlights this trauma and makes a case for how hard it is to get your life back on track once you’ve been targeted by a mob. The real life Nambi comes at the end of the film and says he’ll never forget the wrongs done to him and not going to forgive either. He mentioned his fight initially was just for him but later became a crusade for everyone who has been unjustly accused of wrongdoing.
Madhavan, who not only has played the title role but has also directed the film, paints Nambi less as a scientist and more as a patriotic spy. His foray into Princeton University earlier is fueled by his zeal to learn everything that’s cutting edge in the liquid fuel technology, something that India lacked sorely. He has no qualms about even becoming the house help for an ailing professor and his wife to achieve that end and manages to write a thesis on it in record time. Then, he leads a team of Indian scientists to France to work on a liquid fuel engine and learn how to reverse engineer it for the country after learning its inner workings. Later, he’s shown to broker a deal with Russia at the time of the breaking up of the Russian federation for the cryogenic engine parts and technology. He even gets to have a snowmobile chase against the Americans hell bent on stopping the deal from going through. It’s obliquely hinted that the vengeful Americans were behind his downfall. He was allegedly caught in a honeypot trap set by the Pakistanis. Throughout the film, Nambi is shown to be extremely respectful towards women and doesn’t ever stray, even when the opportunity presents itself.
The film’s cinematography, production design and VFX work has been excellent. You actually feel as if you’re in the midst of the various missile research facilities. The various other luminaries of Indian aerospace research, like Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, and APJ Abdul Kalam are also referenced in the film. Though their contribution is mostly glossed over. We’re made to feel that Indian avionics and aerospace is more a matter of jugaad than actual research, something that Mission Mangal too was guilty of. Shah Rukh Khan has been roped in for an extended guest appearance. He appears as himself and is shown interviewing Nambi, as the story gets narrated in a series of flashbacks. SRK’s presence lends a feel-good effect to the film, which kind of becomes stark and bleak in the second half, where we get to see the harassment endured by Nambi and his family. These portions are not for the fainthearted for sure.
The film marks the directorial debut of Madhavan. It doesn’t feel like it’s directed by a fresher but shows shades of being directed by a veteran. The most harrowing scene of the film is where Simran, who plays Nambi’s wife, temporarily loses her memory and fails to recognise him. The way it’s depicted reminds one of Mani Ratnam. Simran and Madhavan were a celebrated on-screen couple and still retain the chemistry they share. They may have come together after 20 years but the camaraderie is still intact. She’s given yet another riveting performance and should be doing more films. Madhavan carries the film on his shoulders. We can see that he totally believes in Nambi’s innocence and is hoping that the film will finally exonerate him in the eyes of the public. He lives and breathes the character, getting the nuances right. It’s not easy being both the lead actor and the director but Madhavan achieves the desired trajectory on both fronts.
Watch the film for its gripping drama and for Simran’s and Madhavan’s performances.
Trailer : Rocketry: The Nambi Effect
M Suganth, June 30, 2022, 11:36 PM IST
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect Movie Synopsis: A biopic of ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, Rocketry is a formally conventional narration of the contributions of one of India’s premier space scientists and the great personal cost that he is unfairly made to pay for the passion he had for his job and country.
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect Movie Review: Rocketry begins with an extended shot that suitably begins in space and travels down all the way to Earth, where we are introduced to Nambi’s family. With just a few lines of conversation, Madhavan, who is also making his debut as a filmmaker, gives us a peek into the joyful family of his protagonist. When we meet them first, the family is joking around, unaware of the peril that is on their doorstep. And boom, their world turns upside down as Nambi is arrested on charges of spying.
The action cuts to 19 years later, where we now meet an elderly Nambi all set to be interviewed by movie star Suriya (the real-life Suriya, who brings in earnestness to make us empathetic about his interview subject). Madhavan uses this interview as the framing device to narrate the accomplishments of Nambi. We see this somewhat haughty but talented protégé of Vikram Sarabhai using his ingenuity to learn the subject of his choice at Princeton, managing to get technology for a pittance from the CEO of Rolls Royce with his charm, succeeding in his mission of leading a team of 52 scientists to covertly learning technical know-how from the French and building the Vikas engine right under their noses and striking a deal with Russians to get their technology to India even as the Americans try to play dirty.
Madhavan films these portions in a fairly straightforward manner, taking us through the developments with some witty conversations (though the dialogues have a Brahminical flavor), a rousing moment that sets up the interval and less-than-impressive performances by the cast of foreign actors (a constant niggle in Indian films). The incongruence of the actors speaking their lines in a different language while we hear them being uttered in Tamil only gives these portions the feel of a dubbed film.
But the stronger second half gives us the episodes of Nambi being arrested on false charges of selling the nation’s secrets and being accused as a traitor, which leads to unfair imprisonment, third-degree treatments at the hands of cops and being shunned by the society. The film doesn’t go too deep into the scientist’s attempts to clear his name, and instead focuses more on the emotional fallout of the accusation on him and his family. This approach turns Rocketry into a sentimental drama, which feels like a rather safe choice, given that the story offers scope for it to be an edgier film – a cautionary thriller on how, in our country, even those with the best intentions can instantly be vilified due to abuse of power.
But even in its current form, the film offers moments that move us, like the scene when Nambi and his wife Meena find themselves stranded on the streets amidst a downpour with no one willing to help them or when they have to put up with accusing stars At a wedding and later, the satisfying payoff of the couple being looked upon with gratitude at the same event.
As a first-time filmmaker, Madhavan impresses with some of the filmmaking choices – like the single shot that begins the film or the decision to go with a different aspect ratio for the scenes showing Nambi in custody, which enhances the feeling of him being trapped . While the supporting cast is largely filled with lesser-known faces, he extracts good performances from them even though the secondary characters aren’t written with much depth. Seasoned performers like Simran, who is terrific in the few scenes she appears in, and Karthik Kumar, who is solid as an investigating officer who realises the innocence of Nambi, also help. Then, there is Madhavan the actor. From capturing the physicality of the character over the many years that the story unfolds to conveying the inner strength of the character, both during the highs (the Vikas success) and lows (the episodes post his release from prison), the actor puts up an impressive performance that is the Vikas engine of this film.