Rocket Boys Review: Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh breathe life into the offscreen persona of Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai
The momentous instances of Vikram and Homi's life are put on the back burner in Sony LIV's Rocket Boys starring Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh
"My success will not depend on what A or B thinks of me. My success will be what I make of my work." This is one of the most popular quotes of Homi Jehangir Bhabha, a celebrated nuclear physicist who is also the central character in Sony LIV's latest show Rocket Boys. The nuclear physicist is someone that the country has seen on the pages of science textbooks. His scientific achievements are part of India's historical achievements in nuclear energy research.
Director: Abhay Pannu
Cast: Jim Sarbh, Ishwak Singh, Regina Cassandra, Saba Azad, and Dibyendu Bhattacharya
Streaming on: Sony LIV
The show attempts to introduce his offscreen persona and the things that tick this tough man off. It is this man, his friend and student Vikram Sarabhai against the world. The world here does not believe India has it in them to bring about any change in the course of space and nuclear research. Their journey begins before independence and continues post-independence with Jawaharlal Nehru's -- the then Prime Minister -- support.
The momentous instances of Vikram and Homi's life are put on the back burner. Instead, the show gives importance to their personal struggle. The victory in their career is depicted as the by-product of this struggle. So, more time is spent on showing us the roots of Homi's obsession with being a physicist than the physics itself. This is no space drama, and neither is it rooted in science. Rocket Boys is all about the underdogs of the scientific community trying their best to put India on the map alongside superpowers such as the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, and the USA.
Jim Sarbh being cast as Homi is probably one of the best things that the show has going for it. Homi personifies -- in words and actions -- a sincere obsession with physics and a staggering self-belief. Jim Sarbh has brilliantly tapped into these traits of Homi.
Ishwak Singh's portrayal of Vikram Sarabhai is equally rewarding as Jim Sarbh's Homi. His portrayal of Vikram, who is beyond intelligent on paper, but is clueless in interpersonal relationships, is spot on. This is especially effective when we see Vikram court the beautiful Bharatnatyam dancer Mrinalini (Regina Cassandra) in Bangalore. His love for her fizzles out, and what surfaces instead is a man's selfish need to have a woman take care of his children, and fill the void that he leaves behind to pursue his passion. Mrinalini's need to fulfill her ambitions -- one that includes continuing to perform as a dancer, build an academy among other things -- goes unnoticed by Vikram. So much so, he is even being accused of ignoring Mrinalini's feelings intentionally. All of this is well-aided by Ishwak playing Vikram in an unassuming manner.
The show is not critical of its hero. Instead, it documents their choices without judgment. It humanizes the two most celebrated scientists. Rocket Boys outlines Homi and Vikram’s struggles — political and personal — and this includes the CIA’s interference in Homi’s plans to weaponise nuclear energy. Watershed moments of Vikram and Homi's lives play out in the background. Meanwhile, the foreground is all about the characters' thoughts, their reasons, and ambitions.
Rocket Boys puts the spotlight on the footnotes of these men's lives which don't make it to the front pages of the annals of history. The show is also anecdotal. There are bits and pieces of information woven throughout the narrative. Be it Vikram’s affair with a colleague, or Homi’s tug of war with a fellow scientist Raza Mehdi (a fictional character). The portrayal doesn’t shy away from showcasing their flaws. Instead, they use these flaws to make Homi and Vikram more human. Yes, there are melodramatic moments, and these are aided by fictional flourish, but they add value to the victories of these men. The gravity of some of their inventions, and the dire situations surrounding them make for entertaining storytelling.
With a good mix of events that are inspired by real-life, fiction, and allegations made after the death of Homi Bhabha on January 24, 1966; Rocket Boys is certainly a show worth investing time in. However, if one were to go in expecting a space drama this would be a disappointment. Rocket Boys is all about the life and trials of Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha. Their science is something that one would do better to find in the real world.