The month of July started off with the release of the much-awaited film “Rocketry”, the directorial debut of R. Madhavan based on the life & tribulations of ISRO scientist Sri Nambi Narayanan. As the Indian audience is applauding Nambi and his unrelenting fight for justice, let’s take a look at the woman who stood by him like a rock throughout the ordeal – his wife, Meena Narayanan.

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The false implications in the espionage case shook his entire family. Meena always believed that her husband was a true patriot and wouldn’t do anything to hurt his nation. While friends & coworkers all turned their backs on him, she was his support system. It is reported that after her husband was falsely implicated, the temple priests refused to give her Prasad.

In his book, Nambi mentioned how when he came back home, he found her sleeping on the floor in a dark room and responded only after he called out her name twice. “She turned around slowly, raised her head and stayed still, staring into my eyes. She had a strange expression as if she was watching me doing something horrible. Then she let out a shriek that I had never heard – from a human or an animal. The cry coursed through the house. Then she fell silent.” The incidents had severely affected her mental health and she had slipped into depression. Simran Bagga has played the role of Meena Narayanan convincingly.

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Here is my review of the movie Rocketry – The Nambi Effect.

While the teenage me was swooning over “Maddy” in the mid-’90s, just 3-4 km away from my home in Trivandrum, a brilliant rocket scientist was watching his life, career, and reputation crumble in front of his eyes. Nambi Narayanan was just a name I heard on the news, embroiled in some spy scandal. I was too young to understand or care about the incidents. It was decades later that I learned that he was acquitted and I started hearing about how he was wronged.

When Madhavan announced Rocketry, based on the life & tribulations of Nambi Narayanan, I respected him for his guts and his intention to make the Nambi story heard. Covid may have delayed the movie-making, but I knew about his dedication to the movie and was ready to wait. I would have never missed the first-day show for anything !!

I was in for huge surprises when I watched Rocketry with my daughter. Although she has not lived in Trivandrum, she remembered Thumba, Magdalene church, the first rocket launch, Sarabhai etc. How you ask?? The Trivandrum history buff that I am, she had heard all these stories from me many times!  

But what I never knew were the achievements that Nambi Sir had to his credit, the contributions he had done for ISRO, his brilliant mind, his patriotism and the flaws in his personality.

The opening sequence deserves a special paragraph in itself. MS Subbalakshmi’s Venkatesa Suprabhatham is a comforting sound, a bit of nostalgia, an essential part of growing up in South India, the sound that wafts from some faraway home, an integral part of every morning. The recreated rendition of Suprabhatham is so soulful and divine, and it forms the perfect backdrop for the Space sounds and goosebump-inducing graphics. Reworking a legendary song without losing its essence and beauty, yet cater to the younger audience, is no mean feat! Kudos to Divakar Subramaniam and the music team. The bgm was appropriate for the movie, and I definitely need to listen to it again!

Madhavan has said in an interview that none of the cast members used prosthetics, as it would affect the authenticity of the film. The effort he has taken to get into his character is evident in the change in his accent & speech, mannerisms, his body language and physical appearance. Although to be fully honest, there were a couple of scenes where he could have been more natural.

The movie does have some melodrama and emotional scenes, but they do not stand out as a sore thumb. One thing I felt weird about was the NASA staff and all foreign actors speaking in Hindi, rather than using subtitles. Wonder why!  

The casting is superb. Actors have been handpicked to look South Indian yet be able to speak multiple languages so that the lip-syncing looks good on screen. I could spot some Youtubers like Nayana Shyam.  All the cast members have done a great job in maintaining the authenticity of their characters and showing the transformation spanning 20-30 years. The costumes of the 70s till 2000s have also been created tastefully. The film was shot in Russia, Scotland, France etc, so you can catch some beautiful visuals!

A major plus point for me was the language used in the movie. We had watched the Hindi version, where all the actors have spoken the lines, so the lip sync was on point. None of the characters spoke in the stereotypical “Madrasi accent” (that North Indian directors would have added on purpose!!)

Madhavan has kept the narrative engaging and paid attention to every small detail. The rocket engines, equipment and take-off scenes are nail-biting and a treat for science enthusiasts! Another highlight was the black & white sequences for showing major events and premonitions. For a debutant director, I feel he has done a decent job!

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Now coming to the actual hero of the movie – the Indian government conferred the Padma Bhushan to Sri Nambi Narayan and announced 50 lakh compensation. But that would hardly be an atonement for the 3rd-degree cruelty he endured for months, the prime years he lost, the sufferings of his family or the humiliation he faced as an accused traitor. This is a movie every Indian should watch – especially in this day & age where media trials and mob justice could destroy a person in a matter of minutes. Nambi Narayan is possibly the first and worst victim of such a fate, yet he is also a survivor who showed the importance of fighting for your dignity – even if it takes 25 years to get justice.

The climax scene also deserves special mention, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I can only say that it is a fitting tribute to the real Nambi Narayanan, whose story needs to be heard by more people in India. A patriotic rocket scientist who would have become the ISRO head and catapulted India to the elite space league in the 90s was unfortunately only known for his controversial false espionage charges. As they rightly mentioned in the movie “the enemies of India are not foreigners; it is Indians themselves”

Must watch movie! Please watch on the big screen if you can; to appreciate the beautiful visuals.

– Deepa Perumal

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