Rocket Boys, On Sony LIV, Soars In Its Pristine Execution, Despite Its Many Flaws, Film Companion

Rocket Boys tells the once in a generation story of a crucial time which took India to new heights. In pre-independence India, we’re introduced to Dr Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) and Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh), two men who were busy shaping some of the biggest inventions for not just an emerging nation, but for the world. The show begins by throwing a conflict between the two men from the get-go, so that the tension stays there while the show takes us back into exploring their “bromance” through the years leading upto the 60s. The screenplay by Abhay Pannu, who also directed the show, delves into both the personal and the professional lives of these men. Homi’s father Jehangir is a well-regarded lawyer who lives with his wife in a gorgeously-appointed Bombay mansion. Vikram’s family owns textile mills in Ahmedabad; he acknowledges how he comes from a deep place of privilege.

I understand that making science accessible to people through cinema can be a daunting task. The show manages to fairly balance the scientific bits; there seems a genuine effort was put into the construction of sets that help in capturing the zeitgeist of the time and the world of academia seems lived in. Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh’s chemistry is the selling point of the show. The show stands on the shoulders of their contrary (yet instinctive) personalities, constantly trying to overcome those obstacles while staying true to the scientific spirit. That’s what made these men great.

 

Rocket Boys does something unusual from Indian standards of what biopic sub-genre has become over the last decade. The makers realise that the subject matter in itself is so intense, that they can evoke the strongest of emotions by just juxtaposing certain scenes or characters together. For example, let’s talk about one of the most talked about character inclusions in the show, one that’s more reserved for a season two: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (Arjun Radhakrishnan). Notice how the show parallels Vikram’s arrival at IISc in 1940 vs A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s. Each scene is similarly shot and even though they remain adhered to the stereotypical tropes of introducing influential men, everything is said within the subtext due to the great legacy these three men, together called “mad scientists”, carried. Later, the announcement of Sputnik I being launched in 1957 brings over an almost unanimous, joyous smile onto the faces of our rocket boys.

In the second last episode of the eight-part series, we jump back to the 60s timeline where the pilot had initially left off. After going through a tense verbal showdown, a moment that almost seemed like their bromance coming to a break up, we see Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai stand diagonally in front of the furling tricolour flag. The clever staging and swift camera moves reinforce the two scientists’ different roadmaps to the future of India. Rocket Boys is technically one of the most accomplished shows Indian OTT space has put up. In another scene, Vikram and his wife – Mrinalini (Regina Cassandra), after going through a rough-patch in their marriage, sit next to a fire separating them in a single frame, in the huge empty courtyard in the house.

The presentation in the show masks a lot of the narratively convoluted plot points and inconsistencies. That brings me to the complaints I have with the show. A lot of the dialogue seems far too contemporary, which constantly seems at odds with the otherwise brilliant production design that encompasses that era. There’s also the overtly exaggerated sequences of the CIA taking a bit too much interest in the happenings back home, even when we only see the confrontations being confined to a single room with a few characters blubbering out American accents.

Even though a lot of moments in Rocket Boys rely on evoking feelings by creating patriotic moments with blaring melodramatic music, it doesn’t make those emotions any less hard hitting. However, I couldn’t help but wonder whether having two creators helm the show would have improved the overall pacing and tone in the show. Back during the second season of Sacred Games, Anurag Kashyap continued to narrate gangster Gaitonde’s story keeping up with the first season’s style, while Neeraj Ghaywan stepped in to shoot Sartaj Singh’s track.

Also read: Jim Sarbh And Ishwak Singh On Rocket Boys And Playing Real-Life Geniuses

In a lot of places, Rocket Boys seemed like it was juggling too much at once. The high-octane melodramatic approach might’ve been suited better to a Kal Ho Naa Ho, but not when the story is sprawling over two decades. That’s not to say that those moments weren’t touching or good to look at, individually. But then there’s also scenes like the one where we abruptly cut to Vikram proposing to his crush Mrinalini as she’s leaving for Madras on a bus. Later in the series, we get a subplot of Sarabhai wanting to modernise his father’s factories while he tries to talk to the working class. It felt as if I was watching a tacky scene from a mid 2000s film like Guru. Scenes like that made me wonder whether the show was spending too much time with its eye trained elsewhere.

Despite its flaws, Rocket Boys soars for the most part in telling an engaging tale that’s equal parts entertaining and intellectually engaging. Though some of the character motivations felt unwarranted as they don’t really mesh with contrived plot points, eventually the show left me wanting to know more about that period of time in India’s zealous journey that led us to soaring new discoveries.

Rocket Boys, On Sony LIV, Soars In Its Pristine Execution, Despite Its Many Flaws, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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