homeentertainment NewsRegina Cassandra: So grateful that Rocket Boys marked my OTT debut

Regina Cassandra: So grateful that Rocket Boys marked my OTT debut

Regina Cassandra: So grateful that Rocket Boys marked my OTT debut
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By Sneha Bengani  Mar 16, 2023 9:42:14 PM IST (Published)

The prolific actor plays Mrinalini Sarabhai, Bharatanatyam maestro, and the wife of space scientist Vikram Sarabhai in the SonyLIV show. Directed by Abhay Pannu, it stars Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh in titular roles.

Ever since Rocket Boys premiered on SonyLIV last year, Regina Cassandra has been getting a lot of love and applause for playing Mrinalini Sarabhai, one of India’s biggest Bharatanatyam icons who was also the wife of legendary space scientist Vikram Sarabhai.

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At a time when Indian streaming is oversaturated with true-crime dramas, Rocket Boys narrates the story of India’s pioneering space scientists Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, and their peerless contribution to making the country a nuclear superpower when the newly-independent nation had little going for it.
With the show returning on Thursday, Cassandra talks in great detail about her experience of working on Rocket Boys, how she prepared to portray Mrinalini Sarabhai on screen with authenticity and sensitivity, and juggling working simultaneously on Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi projects.
Q. How was it working on Season 2?
A. That we shot Season 1 and quite a bit of Season 2 together really helped with the storyline, scene progression, and getting the basic skeleton out of the way. It was funny because sometimes in one day, we would jump across ages and timelines. For me, it was pretty interesting as an actor. I’m glad we got to shoot Season 1 and my major parts of Season 2 together.  
When we came back for Season 2, I had probably four-five days of shoot to do a bit of work here and there, to tweak the skeleton a bit. It was a privilege to have had that already in place to be able to revisit and do better. I’m pretty excited to see what comes out of it. I have a really beautiful performance in the show that I am so looking forward to. In fact, many people had told me that they wished they saw more of my Bharatanatyam in the show. That is going to be fulfilled now.
Q. While working on Season 1, did you guys expect that it would get the kind of appreciation and acclaim that it did and become what it has?
A. When Season 1 was about to air, all of us knew that we had something nice in our hands and that it was a good product that we were going to be showcasing. But that it was received with so much love and people going gaga over it, I never really expected it. Having won so many awards…all of us always knew Abhay (Pannu; director) was very talented and he knew what he was doing. He is a perfectionist, he would never let us go until he was very happy with the shot or the scene.
I loved the way we shot it—we used to do really long shots; we would do entire scenes from start to end like a master. The whole process was really good. So the expectations personally aren’t really hitting me because I feel it is a show that will live up to its expectations.
I am so grateful that Rocket Boys marked my debut on OTT. It was very interesting for me because I was playing a South Indian and a lot of people from Chennai knew Mrinalini Sarabhai’s family. Her home was just a few kilometres away from my school. People would come up to me and tell me things about her and commend me for having portrayed the character so well. It was really surprising and fulfilling.
A lot of the Tamil and Telugu audience who had seen so much of my work over the last 11 years told me that this was so refreshing, beautiful, and different. That for me was the biggest compliment because they have not just accepted me doing something different but also think I have done a great job of it. So all of this love and affection, I did not expect it while I was doing it. You just go there and you do your job to the best you can, which is what I did.
Q. How was it working with Jim Sarbh, Ishwak Singh, and Abhay Pannu?
A. Rocket Boys has some fabulous actors, from Jim to Ishwak, Arjun Radhakrishnan, Saba, Anahita Oberoi, Rajit Kapoor, and everybody else. Everyone did their absolute best. The casting, according to me, was totally on point. We’d have these conversations on set as well and I’d tell Abhay that he has the perfect cast.
Everyone is a unique character, so different from each other. As I said, Abhay is a perfectionist. He is the kind of director that I can have an argument with and then also say I love you, Abhay. He is young and full of energy; I absolutely loved working with him.
Jim is a clown. He is exactly like you see him in all his interviews. He is always making people laugh on set. He loves being the centre of attention and does a great job of it. So you just let him be. Ishwak, on the other hand, is very quiet. But he has his crazy streaks once in a while where he’d break into a dance suddenly. All of us have had a great rapport. I could have not asked for a better team.
Q. How did you prepare for Mrinalini Sarabhai’s role?
A. Mrinalini Sarabhai was not just any Bharatanatyam dancer, she was a pioneer. She spoke about societal concerns—be it dowry deaths, sati, or female infanticide—through her art form. Dance was her medium of conversation with the world.
I needed to understand this dance form thoroughly to play someone who had lived it. That was very important for me. When I was about 8 or 9, I learned Bharatanatyam for about four years. So I understood the dance form. But when I found out that I was going to play Mrinalini Sarabhai, the first thing I did was get a Bharatanatyam teacher. We were in midst of the pandemic. So I had 1-1.5 hour classes on Zoom every day just to get in the form again.
I also read her autobiography Voice of the Heart (2005), saw her performances, and everything else that I could get on YouTube, and picked up on even small details like her favorite colour, bird, song. Whenever I met Mallika Sarabhai or Revanta, I would hear things about her. These were the things that I grasped onto to get into the character as much as I could.
Q. How much of what we see of her on screen is real and what all is fictionalised?
There is a bit of fiction for sure. That’s what you need also I think at the end of the day. The Sarabhai family was a big part of the entire series. So there is a great balance between fiction and non-fiction throughout the entire show.
Q. What do you like the most about Rocket Boys?
A. That it has been done so well. Even from the audience's perspective, I am so proud that we have a show on some of our most amazing scientists. That telling their stories to the best that we could has not just gone in the passing.
If you go to teenagers today and say Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, they’ll look at you with question marks on their faces. It’s surprising because when I was in school, even though not as much as it would have been 30-40 years ago, their names and their work were still spoken about. But it is zero today. So I think it’s important for people to revisit these stories. Also, as an Indian, to know that we went through all this. I’m not saying that everyone should resonate with it but it’s beautiful to know these stories. And it’s told in a very nice way. So you are not just learning history but are also engrossed in what’s happening.
Q. You made your Hindi film debut in 2019 opposite Sonam Kapoor in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. You have worked in several web series since then but no Hindi film. Why not?
A. That’s the funny bit. I have been dabbling with different languages right from the time I started. It was Tamil and Telugu first. Every time I would do three Telugu films and then only one Tamil film would come out, people in Tamil Nadu would say why aren’t we seeing you in more Tamil films?
I have faced this quite a bit but I am doing a lot right now. Last year itself, four OTT releases of mine in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi came out. To try and create that balance for one person is quite tough. Even when we were shooting for Rocket Boys, I would be flying out of Hyderabad to Mumbai at 5 am and then flying out of Mumbai the next morning to go to Hyderabad to shoot. It was quite a task to handle it.
As for a Hindi film, I am looking for something that would do justice to my coming back. Because even though Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga would be technically considered my Hindi film debut, I don’t look at it like that. For me, it was just another film that I did and I felt that it was such an important subject to talk about. I would have done that film irrespective of the language.
Q. What will we see you in next?
A. I have two Tamil and two Telugu films ready to hit the theatres. As for Hindi, there will be an announcement, hopefully, three weeks from now.
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