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Rocketry The Nambi Effect Movie Review: Madhavan Simran propel this biopic on Nambi Narayanan- Cinema express

Rocketry: The Nambi Effect Movie Review: Madhavan, Simran propel this compelling biopic

Published: 01st July 2022

At one point in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, we see Madhavan’s Nambi Narayanan drive a snow sled in Russia as he tries to smuggle off rocket components in a Russian flight just as the Americans come to confiscate them. There are snow-capped mountains, an almost femme fatale-type Russian, and a rocket scientist who can handle his champagne. If not anything else, Rocketry could have been our very own The World is not Enough meets A Beautiful Mind of sorts. However, that is not the story that Madhavan wants to tell, and that is certainly not the story Nambi Narayanan deserves to be represented in.

Cast: Madhavan, Simran, Rajeev Ravindranath, Sam Mohan

Director: Madhavan

It is interesting where Madhavan, who makes his directorial debut with Rocketry, decides to start the film. He starts off with actor Suriya, playing himself, interviewing Nambi in a live show. Although the premise isn’t new, it is definitely promising, but we also see glimpses of Madhavan’s directorial style where he ensures the melodrama is elevated among the peripheral characters. Nevertheless, there is a gradual buildup to the crescendo, and we are introduced to Nambi’s family, and it is intercut (editor Bijith Bala employs a smart editing style that is used often in the film) by the country waking up to the news of Nambi’s alleged treachery. What happened to Nambi was the primitive form of ‘Cancel Culture’ where an allegation was enough to tarnish the image of a man who gave everything to his country.   But Madhavan doesn’t just want to concentrate on the humiliation suffered by Nambi and his family at the hands of the power structures and people in the country. He wants to show us the man behind the white flowing beard. Nambi would have liked it too, and the narration moves back and forth to reintroduce us to the life and times of Nambi Narayanan, a stubborn rocket scientist, whose only aim in life was to put Indian rocket science on the global map.

Starting off from the times of Vikram Sarabhai, we are shown Nambi’s scientific exploits, his sojourns in Europe and the USA, his rejection of the highly lucrative NASA offer, and his run-ins with the red-tapism and lethargy of India when it came to funding science. While these portions help us warm up to the enterprising life of Nambi Narayanan, it bares open a few problems in the film’s writing. It doesn’t help that there is a striking dissonance in the Tamil dialogues because it doesn’t feel organic. Also, these portions, which are set in the 70s, has humour that would have been best left in that era instead of transporting it fifty years into the future in 2022. However, points to Madhavan and team for not trying to dumb down rocket science to make it appealing. Most of these scientific conversations that Nambi Narayanan has with his colleagues and friends aren’t something that all of us would understand because it is indeed rocket science. But the writing around these portions is to keep us invested in the success of these missions and not about what the mission is all about. All we know is Nambi and Co are doing it for India, and that pinch of patriotism is enough to pull us through.

Although these sequences explore international espionage, systemic corruption, and vanquished dreams, Rocketry truly becomes a wonderful film when the focus is trained firmly on what Nambi Narayanan, his wife Meena (A terrific Simran), children Geeta (Misha Ghoshal) and Shankar (Shyam Renganathan), and son-in-law Arunan (Muralidharan) go through after the allegations surface. For instance, right after repeated bouts of torture, there is a monologue by Nambi. It is Madhavan's finest onscreen performance. Even in that acceptance of defeat, there is a slight sense of defiance. Even in that debilitating humiliation, Madhavan exudes the confidence of an honest man. Standing strong opposite him is Simran, who once again proves why she is a consummate performer. Her guttural cries will be ringing in our ears long after the credits roll. The rest, especially Nambi’s team — Param (Rajeev Ravindranath), Sartaj (Bhawsheel), and Unni (Sam Mohan) — are perfect foils to a rock-solid Madhavan and Simran at the centre of things. Also, honestly, the actor in Madhavan outshines the director by a considerable margin. While some of the facets of his directorial approach are commendable, especially the place where he brings Nambi Narayanan on screen, there are a few others where some different choices could have given us a more rounded film.

Most biopics made in Indian cinema, especially if it is about living people, border on hagiographies. Nambi Narayanan’s story makes for a cautionary yet fascinating tale of how a bonafide national treasure was unceremoniously discarded on the sidelines for a long time. It speaks about how even at the darkest of times, he trusted in the goodness of the people, and the judiciary. It delves deep into how rumours and mob mentality easily ruin reputations without even the slightest afterthought about the veracity of the allegations. It doesn’t shy away from raining complaints about his parent organisation ISRO and even nudges into the idea of who was behind this treachery.

Yes, our Indian cinema treats biopics as hagiographies, but when it is a biopic of someone like Padma Bhushan Nambi Narayanan, it is okay. It isn’t tough to understand why Rocketry - The Nambi Effect had to be told this way… you see, it isn’t rocket science.

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