Written and directed by Abhay Pannu, Rocket Boys is based on the life and times of Jawaharlal Nehru’s “mad scientists” — Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai. The first season established the characters and their respective ambitions — to develop atom bombs or to send rockets into outer space. Winning rave reviews, the show was on IMDb's list of popular web-shows of 2022.
The second season drops on SonyLIV on March 16th. Before we dig into the new season of scientists battling it out against state, friends, and time, here’s a recap of five things from the first season to keep in mind.
Season 1 begins in 1962, when India is losing the war to China’s superior military apparatus. Physicist Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) is pushing for nuclear weapons — not to be deployed, but only to be used as a deterrent, to seem imposing and threatening as a nuclear nation without being barbaric. Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh), once Bhabha’s protege, then friend, then estranged friend, is actively against this.
Cue, a flashback to the 1940s giving the backstory of how Bhabha and Sarabhai met, became colleagues, and then through the “Cosmic Ray Balloon” experiment, tight friends who moved each other’s moral compass. Sarabhai, for example, inspired Bhabha to take up the national cause.
One of the interesting swerves of season 2 will be the death of Nehru (Rajit Kapoor) and the ascendance of Indira Gandhi, and how this geopolitical pivot affects the scientists, both of whom had unimpeded access to Nehru.
The first season introduced us to Mrinalini Sarabhai (Regina Cassandra), Vikram Sarabhai’s wife, a Bharatnatyam dancer, and Pipsy (Saba Azad), Homi Bhabha’s lover, cut from the same Parsi cloth as him.
Pipsy ends up marrying someone else, leaving Bhabha heartbroken. Over the course of the first season, the Sarabhais’ marriage comes apart, with Mrinalini getting lonelier and Vikram pursuing an affair with Dr. Kamla Chowdhry (Neha Chauhan), Vikram’s colleague.
In the first season we are introduced to a young APJ Abdul Kalam (Arjun Radhakrishnan), through the evocative score of Achint Thakkar. His introduction in the first season felt more symbolic and politically necessary. He becomes Sarabhai’s protege by charming him with his ambition — his resume has a list of all the places that rejected him.
Much like Sarabhai, as Bhabha’s protege, moved him to reconsider his ambitions, Kalam moves Sarabhai to rekindle his old passion — to make the rocket. In the second season, his arc will be fleshed out more as he is thrust into the limelight by destiny.
Rocket Boys begins with possibilities of fictional villains — Dibyendu Bhattacharya as Dr. Raza, Bhabha’s nemesis, and Namit Das as the journalist Prosenjit Dey — while trying to tell the story of real people, leaning heavily into the conspiracy theory of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) being interested in Homi Bhabha’s demise.
Towards the end of the season, however, we realize that Vishwesh Mathur (K.C. Shankar) — a close associate of Bhabha — is the true villain, spilling his secrets to the CIA.
Title and poster design, opening credits is an artform that not many take much notice of. It is one even filmmakers discard. But the visual ingeniousness and specificity of Rocket Boys’ opening credits sequence, designed by Studio Kokaachi deserves both your attention and affection — where the smoke left behind a screeching rocket falls on the earth as flowers; where a man holding a telescope looks at roving planets which then become agitated but well-behaved atoms being studied under a microscope, making our smallness feel cyclical, and the universe’s vastness bearable; where the jetting pulse of a radiation looks like a rocket being launched during war, causing fission, the splitting of the atom and the human soul; where a rock being studied becomes a mountain being whipped along by a war-time fighter plane throwing down fire and bedlam like a dragon. War and physics often go hand in hand, and Rocket Boys uses the former as the background to bring to the fore the latter.