In a sense, this film – Rocketry is very much like The Kashmir Files! It is a subject that we are privy to, but only in parts. It’s a subject that needs to be told to the public at large. Again, it’s a subject that leads to catharsis for the people involved and brings a sense of closure. Madhavan, who has scripted, acted, directed, and produced this film takes up a solid subject and attempts to get justice for a man – Nambi Narayanan, the Ex-ISRO scientist in this case, through this film. He succeeds in a fair measure.
It is a confirmed biopic on Nambi and doesn’t take too much cinematic liberty about his life, which is a good thing. While we would think that the focus will be on the false ISRO spy case that was foisted on Nambi, the film tries to widen our perspective and understanding of Nambi, by establishing him as a genius scientist first. As a scriptwriter, Madhavan takes a lot of pain in the first half by throwing a hell of a lot of technical stuff at us. Frankly, many times, these go above the head as the subject is indeed “Rocket Science”! So, I am not sure if the director was able to achieve his objective of elevating Nambi to another orbit in terms of his scientific brain.
The first half, therefore, is slow and long winding. Fortunately, the pace and the narrative get better in the second half. The case itself is fast-forwarded probably because it is all there in the public domain. Madhavan focuses more on Nambi’s character and persona by showing stuff we have not heard or read before.
One of the fallacies we find in biopics is the whitewashing of the character of all the person’s negatives. Refreshingly, in Rocketry, Madhavan paints a true picture of Nambi as a man who is so single-minded in his ambition and mission that he would even be manipulative if required. Madhavan as Nambi not just gets under the skin of the character in terms of body language but also gets the emotional connection right. He is brilliant as Nambi right through the phases of being a young, ambitious scientist to the wronged but resilient old man fighting for his self-pride. Simran as Nambi’s wife gets limited space and, in the frames, she is there, she is outstanding. All other supporting characters like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr. Satish Dhawan, Dr. Kalam, and the other assistants in the mission are all cast very well.
For a film that straddles countries (US, Scotland, France, Russia, and India) and eras (from the ’80s to now), Rocketry stands out in terms of production values. The attention to detail in bringing before us the elements of rocket science is laudable. The film stays loyal to the script without much distraction. Yet, a better writer would have elevated this meaty subject to another level with a better screenplay. The writing falls off the cliff as it tries too hard to make a James bond out of Nambi. The redemption comes towards the end for the screenplay when it deals with the case. Here again, I felt that the investigation scenes are hurried up and get into closure in a hurry. For a debut film, Madhavan gives a pretty good account of himself as a director with his framing, eye for detail, and getting optimum output from his technical crew. It is in the writing department that he falters.
When you watch the film, many questions are answered about his life. Yet, few questions remain. Like, why didn’t ISRO come to the defence of Nambi early on when the case came to light? For any investigation as much as finding the culprit, nailing the motive of the crime is also important. What was the motive here? Why did it become a State Vs Central affair in such a sensitive case? Why did local the media play such havoc in a sensitive case that involved national security?
Rocketry is a must-watch film for the subject. If only Madhavan had done a better job on the screenplay and writing, the film would have been a “must-watch” film without any strings attached. I still feel a tinge of disappointment. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime.