By Ruchika Das
Rating : 3.5/5
Choose the life story of a popular, celebrated person and make a biopic about them, and you can bet audiences will flock to the theatres. But the real victory comes when you choose to tell the story of an underdog and manage to keep everyone’s attention with your compelling storytelling and execution. Based on the life of space scientist Nambi Narayanan, R Madhavan’s ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ is a story that, surprisingly, no one thought of telling on the big screen until now, but it has so much to say. Madhavan wrote and directed the film, which stars him as Nambi Narayanan, and this is one onscreen portrayal that, after a long time, makes you notice the heart, soul, and sweat that has gone into making it.
The Nambi Effect begins with a wide shot of outer space before landing in Nambi Narayanan’s house in Trivandrum and meeting his family. While everyone is laughing over lunch, their world comes crashing down when Nambi is arrested on espionage charges. A few scenes in which Nambi’s wife is humiliated at a wedding she was going to attend, his daughter sits helpless in the middle of the road as someone throws dung in her face, his son is beaten up, and his son-in-law is attacked are difficult to watch. That’s when you realise it’s not just one man who has been wronged, but an entire family.
Rocketry focuses on the journey of one of the most brilliant and skilled ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) scientists, who prioritises his country and science above all else, but is forced to suffer personally and professionally as a result of some corrupt officials. As a young scientist, Nambi effortlessly negotiates lucrative deals outside his country that benefit their department back home and India’s Mars Mission. Earning a scholarship at Princeton, making a ridiculous demand of Rolls-CEO, Royce’s leading a team of 52 scientists to learn technical know-how from the French and accomplishing some impossible goals, and finally convincing Russians to sell their technology to India at a reasonable rate, Madhavan does all of this and more with such charm.
The first half of the film contains far too many technical and scientific euphemisms that are difficult to understand, making the film a little too heavy. But Madhavan has no qualms about it because he clearly does not compromise the veracity of his story. Many of the dialogues are in English, French, and even Russian, which some may find distracting from the plot, but they add a lot of authenticity to it. There are some lighter moments as well, with Indian scientists making fun of people in various countries they visit. The film’s second half is far more dramatic, engaging, and fascinating. It depicts how Nambi was tortured in jail for making a false confession of selling rocket science secrets to Pakistan. I wish the emphasis here was a little more on telling us who mistreated him and what was the purpose behind it, but that question remains unanswered until the very end.
That being said, you connect with Nambi’s story on a personal level throughout the film, celebrating his highs, feeling the pain of his lows, and cheering loudly each time you detect a patriotic flavour in his actions and words. It is not an exaggeration to call Madhavan a one-man army who puts on a spectacular show both in front of and behind the camera. He deserves praise for the amount of research and homework he put into making this biopic. As a director, he handles the topic with extreme sincerity and deep understanding, and as an actor, he portrays it with complete dedication and earnestness. His physical appearance contributes to the character’s credibility. I’d like to point out the climactic scene in which Madhavan is speaking to Khan and a close-up of his face transitions to the real Nambi Narayanan. You don’t even get the impression that he’s a different person for a split second. That’s how genuine Madhavan appeared on screen.
Simran, who plays Nambi’s wife Meena in the supporting cast, makes an impression in the few scenes we see her in. Then, among others, Karthik Kumar as CBI investigating officer PM Nayar, Sam Mohan as Unni, Rajeev Ravindranathan as Param, and Bhawsheel as Sartaj add depth to the plot.
The film’s highlight is Shah Rukh Khan’s performance as the interviewer who unfolds chapters from Nambi’s life. The way he emotes and becomes completely immersed in Nambi’s story during the interview does not appear to be a film scene. And full credit goes to Madhavan for choosing such an inspiring story and telling it in such a moving way that even King Khan tears up near the end.
Nambi Narayanan’s story is a salutary yet captivating tale of how a genuine national treasure was unceremoniously discarded for an extended period of time. It speaks of how, even in the darkest of times, trust in the goodness of people and the judiciary can be beneficial. It delves into how rumours and mob mentality can easily destroy reputations. It also doesn’t shy away from heaping criticism on his parent organisation, ISRO, and even hints at who was behind this treachery. It’s easy to see why ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ had to be told in this manner.
Audiences may not think of this film as a mass commercial potboiler fit only for festivals, but it’s time to let go of these expectations because this film is well worth your time and money. It helps you understand your country better and tells the untold story about people who sacrificed a lot for their country.