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    Rocketry: The Nambi Effect movie review | Madhavan’s labour of love is a one-man show

    Rocketry: The Nambi Effect movie review | Madhavan’s labour of love is a one-man show

    Rocketry: The Nambi Effect movie review | Madhavan’s labour of love is a one-man show
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    By Sneha Bengani   IST (Updated)

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    Despite being a biopic, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect breaks the usual template, forces us to ask difficult questions, and is careful enough to give no ready answers. After Mission Mangal and Rocket Boys, it is the latest addition to the growing number of films and shows revolving around Indian space science.

    In its 155-minute runtime, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect tries to pack in the extraordinary life of rocket scientist Nambi Narayanan, a man as remarkable as he was audacious. Narayanan’s story is the stuff of legend, the kind that feels straight out of a 007 film. The first scientist from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to study at Princeton on a full scholarship, he achieved unbelievable feats for India at a time when our space technology was still in its nascency, susurrating for a breakthrough.
    However, just when Narayanan was reaching for the stars full throttle and seemed unstoppable, he crashed. At the height of his aerospace career, he was implicated in a case of espionage and suffered prolonged inhumane custodian violence. Once a celebrated national hero, he was declared a traitor and went through all that comes with it — ostracisation, humiliation, violence, public anger, shame, and personal loss.
    But Narayanan, who was offered a lucrative position and an illustrious career by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) straight after his stint at Princeton, fought it out. It took him 24 years to get the governmental compensation that he was offered after his acquittal but he saw it through. Later in 2019, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the government of India for his exemplary services to the country. However, the sad irony is that even today, it’s still a mystery who the real culprits were and why was Narayanan framed. The film hints at several possibilities but no one can say for sure.
    Narayanan’s quest to learn and his single-minded focus to use his knowledge to further India’s position in space tech takes him across varied geographies—Princeton, NASA, Scotland, France, and Russia. The film’s pace is restless and its hunger insatiable, much like the man whose story it tells. R Madhavan is terrific as Narayanan. Aware of his genius and all that he can do with it, his Narayanan is proud, arrogant, straight-talking, ambitious, and imbues the film with restive energy. However, Madhavan has also directed this passion project—his first—and written the screenplay and dialogues. This is where the waters run shallow. But more on this later.
    Madhavan presents Narayanan’s eventful, momentous travails in an interview format and gets Shah Rukh Khan to ask him important questions about his high-octane life. This works in the film’s favor on multiple levels. It removes the burden off Madhavan to establish continuity in Narayanan’s career that was full of disparate highlights, each more dramatic than the previous one. It also allows Madhavan to treat each major development as a different chapter, an episode. Moreover, at a time when the socio-political climate of the country is acutely tense, seeing Khan, a beloved superstar, on the big screen after an unintended hiatus of four years feels reassuring, like a warm hug after a particularly unforgiving day.
    Despite being a biopic, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect breaks the usual template, forces us to ask difficult questions, and is careful enough to give no ready answers. There is a particularly heart-rending scene in which an aging Narayanan and his wife Meena are unceremoniously thrown out of a rickshaw. It’s pouring unrelentingly in Trivandrum. They have just come out of a medical facility. Meena is undergoing treatment. After what Narayanan is made to go through, she goes deep in shock. As he picks himself up and his ailing wife off the road, the camera moves up to focus on a national flag hoisted nearby—a chilling moment highlighting how a country and its people can reduce a star to a survivor.
    I also liked how Rocketry: The Nambi Effect makes something as technical and onerous as space science accessible and dramatic without dumbing it down. Though the film is heavy on space jargon, not once does it feel inaccessible. Madhavan and his team make sure to let you in on the goings-on. However, this is not a film that’s big on subtlety or detail. It tells you what it wants you to think. Narayan’s actions are enough proof of his phenomenal prowess and deep patriotism. But everyone around him keeps saying it in as many words nevertheless. Also, we are never told why Khan is interviewing him. As remarkable as Narayanan’s tale is, its telling is painfully unsophisticated and simplistic.
    Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is Madhavan’s labour of love, his earnest attempt at bringing to fore a story not many of us knew, that of a patriot wronged. As objective as the first-time filmmaker may have tried to be, the film’s tone and narrative make it amply clear that he is a fanboy, keen on giving Narayanan’s tragic tale a silver-lining. Much like how Khan apologises to Narayanan at the end, this film feels like Madhavan’s way of saying sorry and thank you to him on the behalf of an entire nation.
    After Mission Mangal and Rocket Boys, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is the latest addition to the growing number of films and shows revolving around ISRO. A lot of characters and events overlap in these two projects, which almost feel like spin-offs. We meet a young Abdul Kalam and an aging Vikram Sarabhai. Rocketry: The Nambi Effect positions itself comfortably between the SonyLIV show and the Akshay Kumar-Vidya Balan film. The phenomenon named Narayanan exploded after Homi Bhabha and Sarabhai had laid the foundation. Narayanan took the torch forward, which was then used to fire up Mangalyaan, India’s fabled Mars Mission.
    Read other pieces by Sneha Bengani here.
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