‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ movie review: Madhavan’s intention is noble, but the film hits turbulence often

The first half feels like a science class, but the second, packs some emotional heft to ensure ‘Rocketry’ lands well

July 01, 2022 11:11 am | Updated 07:38 pm IST

A still from ‘Rocketry’

A still from ‘Rocketry’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Rocketry doesn't open inside a science lab or an aerospace facility. It opens with a neat shot of Nambi Narayanan's (Madhavan) home in Trivandrum, where everyone in the family is getting ready to attend a family wedding. It's been ages since they went together for such a function, says Meena (Simran). Everyone is excited.

Things do not turn out as expected, as Nambi gets arrested. But why would the cops be after an ISRO scientist who has contributed much to the nation's science and technology field?

Rocketry is the tale of Nambi Narayanan’s splendid career as a scientist in the ISRO and how he was subsequently treated when a false case of epsionage was foisted on him. Madhavan deserves praise for picking a subject that not many people might be aware of, and more importantly, not diluting it by adding ‘filmi’ elements

But honest intention alone does not make a great film. Biopics are relatively easier than fictional topics to crack, and it's to Madhavan's advantage — this is his directorial debut — that he has rich material in front of him. Choosing the main events in Nambi's dramatic life was key, and Madhavan has picked the best. But translated into a film, it still feels like a missile gone astray.

Cast: Madhavan, Simran, Suriya, Muralidharan, Karthik Kumar
Director: Madhavan
Storyline: The tale of an ISRO scientist who is falsely accused of being a spy

The first half feels like an extended science class, with multiple jargons thrown in that not many people might relate to. In these portions, the film has very little flavour, and rather comes across as scenes documenting Nambi's victories in the scientific world. There are umpteen scenes here that are the cinematic equivalent of saying 'Nambi is a genius' and nothing more. Adding to the woes is the fact that the subject needed many foreign actors (Nambi studied at Princeton), most of whom are rather weak in performance and dialogue delivery. The Tamil version of the film, in fact, had unintentionally funny dialogues that sorely stick out.

A still from ‘Rocketry’

A still from ‘Rocketry’ | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It is in the second half that Rocketry feels more like a film, like a missile suddenly galvanised into action. The dialogues get sharper. Making up for the average directorial skills of Madhavan is actor Madhavan, who springs to life in the portions capturing Nambi's older days. The actor aces some of these sequences, especially the ones that follow his custodial torture. My favourite is a sequence of him being offered tea by an official... and this is after he has been traumatised for no fault of his. In this scene, Madhavan's hands shiver, his fingers tremble, and his lips quiver. It perfectly encapsulates a battered man. Also delivering fine little performances are Karthik Kumar as a CBI official, Simran as Nambi's wife who goes through a lot in this turbulent journey and Suriya in a cameo appearance as an interviewer.

The film is also about choices, and one really wishes that it explored that in more detail. There's a supposedly poignant scene in which Nambi has to choose between a coveted, well-paying job abroad and an average-paying job in India. What could have ended up as a scene with heft gets dissolved in a joke that one of the characters harmlessly cracks. Similarly, Nambi has to make a choice in another situation concerning one of his key team members, but the events that follow do not carry the emotional weight it ought to. Sam CS' music and Sirsha Ray's cinematography keeps us invested during those times.

The story of Rocketry is, without doubt, something that audiences have to be told. But, behind that thought is a film that connects only in parts and is, at many times, awkward. In the film, a character remarks that scientists are strange people. Maybe Rocketry is that strange film that keeps sifting between fact and emotion, without making a distinguishable mark.

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