Synopsis – Based by the life of ISRO Scientist Nambi Narayanan who was falsely accused of being a spy and arrested in 1994. Though free, he is still fighting for justice, with those police officials alleged to have falsely implicated him, still free.
My Take – While most leading actors, when taking the plunge to work from behind the camera, usually take a familiar more comfortable route to present their story, R. Madhavan, for his directorial debut, which he also wrote, co-produced and stars in, bravely picks up a difficult but necessary biopic to tackle, that too of S. Nambi Narayanan, an Indian Space Research Organization scientist, a name sadly many of us hadn’t heard of before.
Considering as one of the brightest mind of India, Narayanan was a leading light in the ISRO when he was falsely accused of espionage in 1994, only for the charges to be dismissed by the CBI in 1996 and subsequently, by the Supreme Court. However, the loss of reputation, the social cancellation, the ruinous effect of the allegations and investigation played not on the peace of his mind, his career and his family throughout, but also severely pushed India’s Mars Mission by decades.
To Madhavan‘s advantage, who shot the film simultaneously in Tamil, Hindi and English with some differences in the cast, he had an expansive set of rich material to exploit from. Thankfully, which he handles with extreme honesty and deep understanding as a director, and portrays it with full dedication and earnestness as an actor, resulting in a flawed, yet fascinating biopic.
Though most biopics made in Indian cinema, especially those about living people, border on being over-dramatic, but here, Narayanan’s compelling story makes for a cautionary yet fascinating tale of how a national treasure got unceremoniously discarded for a long time without being diluted in cinematic liberties. Without a doubt, the research done behind putting together this biopic deserves an applause.
Beginning with a brief intro in the Narayanan family just before their world came crumbling down, the story then follows an elderly Nambi Narayanan (R. Madhavan), in present time, where he is interviewed by superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan (Suriya in Tamil) about his life. Heading back to the time when he was experimenting with A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, one of his team members, under the guidance of his mentor, Vikram Sarabhai (Rajit Kapur), until he received his scholarship acceptance into Princeton, an Ivy League University in 1969. And following his stint there he is immediately offered a very financial healthy position at NASA.
However, being a patriot Nambi heads back to India with his wife, Meena (Simran), and joins ISRO. As a young scientist, over the next decade, Nambi effortlessly manages to crack profitable deals outside his country that would help their department back home and India’s Mars Mission.
Be it making a ridiculous demand from the CEO of Rolls Royce, leading a teaming of 52 scientists to learn technical know-how from the French and accomplishing some impossible tasks like convincing a breaking USSR to sell their technology to India at a way lower price, and then taking part in a risky mission to get those parts out under the eye of USA.
That is until his whole life came crashing down in 1994, when an unsuspecting middle aged Nambi is abruptly arrested, physical tortured and branded a traitor for apparently selling secrets to a rival nation. Instantly, his entire family including his three adult children, a bunch of simple-minded middle-class folks are criminalized and targeted by everyone around them.
Here, as director Madhavan handles the subject with lot of honesty, and stays true to the world around Nambi Narayanan. His efforts and passion to bring this tale to spectacle is visible in every frame of the film.
The biggest challenge here for director Madhavan was to keep a regular, non-scientific audience engaged while he explored the scientific adventures of the solid and liquid states, the correct pressure that is required to be the right propellant, and the space programs in Russia and France. Kudos to director Madhavan and the team for not trying to dumb down rocket science to make it appealing. While interest of many (like myself) will vain in such portions, the overall writing nevertheless keeps us invested in the success of these missions.
But while the first hour meanders along establishing the persona and the man behind Nambi and feels contrived and nonthreatening, but it’s the powerful second half that makes this bumpy ride of a film truly worthwhile. As everything just turns far more intense, gripping and intriguing.
Although these sequences explore international espionage, systemic corruption, and vanquished dreams, the film truly becomes effective when it focuses on what Nambi, his wife Meena, children Geeta (Misha Ghoshal) and Shankar (Shyam Renganathan), and son-in-law Arunan (Muralidharan) go through, after the allegations surface. The film explores the portrait of a self-respecting family being witch-hunted and their personal trauma without much melodrama.
Yes, at 157 minutes, the film definitely gets a bit lengthy and a sharper editing, especially in the first half, could have made it a tighter watch. That being said, throughout the film, being an underdog story, you connect with Nambi’s story on a personal level and celebrate his highs, feel the pain of his lows and cheer loud each time you sense the patriotic flavor in his actions and words.
Without a doubt, this one is a R. Madhavan show all the way, who puts together a spectacular show both in front of the camera and behind. Here, Madhavan shoulders the film with impressive authority. The varying ages and phases of Nambi’s life is brought to life with great authenticity. Simran also manages to leave an impact with whatever few scenes we see her in.
In supporting roles, Rajit Kapur, Sam Mohan, Karthik Kumar, Rajeev Ravindranathan, and Bhawsheel manage to stand out. Playing himself, Shah Rukh Khan shines in his cameo reminding how much we miss his magnetic screen presence. On the whole, ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ is a flawed but well-made biopic that tells an inspiring story of an underdog.
Directed – Madhavan
Rated – PG
Run Time – 157 minutes