In one scene in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, R Madhavan tells his friend, “Jo baatein pata hai usko ghadi ghadi dohrayo mat karo yaar (Stop repeating the things we already know)” and this is advice the film should’ve paid heed to as well.
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is Madhavan’s directorial debut and he also plays the titular role of former ISRO scientist and aerospace engineer Nambi Narayanan who was falsely accused of espionage.
Props to Madhavan for bringing Narayanan’s story to the big screen because it’s a story that needs to be told.
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect explores Narayanan’s life as an arrogant but brilliant scientist who becomes the first person from ISRO to attend an Ivy League university (Princeton). He also manages to secure an unbelievable deal (worth 400 million pounds) from Colonel Cleaver (Ron Donachie), the CEO of Rolls Royce– armed with charm and aided by Cleaver’s apparent “imperial guilt”.
He tactfully secures crucial equipment and escapes in a scene reminiscent of a James Bond film (mostly Die Another Day). It is reiterated over and over again that Nambi Narayanan puts his nation above all else and wants to equip India to become a kingpin in ‘rocketry’. This man’s life is then derailed by accusations of selling secrets to Pakistan– a charge he continues to deny.
Who framed Narayanan? The film doesn’t answer this question but that is understandable since it’s seemingly one that hasn’t been answered in real life. However, the film soon morphs into a hagiography from a biopic.
Time and again, people in the film say phrases like, “You’re the man Nambi” and “Badi theeki cheez ho tum Nambi” which comes off as the makers underestimating both the audience and the power of Narayanan’s story.
Even something like an offer from NASA being a big deal is repeated multiple times– even on the off chance that someone in the audience doesn’t know how big an offer from NASA is, one scene would’ve been enough. For this reason and more, the first half of the film comes off as confusing and half-baked.
The second half, that follows the events after Narayanan’s arrest and the fight to prove his innocence, makes for an intriguing and gripping watch. The depiction of custodial torture are horrifying and so is the trauma his family has had to face.
Actor Simran portrays Narayanan’s wife Meena Nambi with grace and absolute conviction. The scenes exploring the traumatising effect the espionage accusations have had on Narayanan’s family (and especially Meena) are tear-jerkers.
Madhavan does an admirable job as Narayanan, moving from one emotion to another seamlessly. He transforms into Narayanan on screen and shines in the film. But his mettle as a director doesn’t match up to his skill as an actor.
And who can forget Shah Rukh Khan, who plays himself, in the film? He acts as the catalyst in the film’s narration; asking questions the audience wants answers to and pushing the story forward. As an interviewer talking to Narayanan, SRK’s emotions will inevitably influence yours– a testament to his skill.
Several side characters perform like they’re reading off a teleprompter and it undercuts many high-stakes scenes. It’s a film that had to be made but could’ve (and should’ve) been made better.
A sharper edit and a more sophisticated screenplay would’ve done wonders. On the other hand, Sirsha Ray’s cinematography and Sam CS’ music are highlights.
Rocketry is a well-intentioned film and works purely because of the heroic and inspirational protagonist at its helm.
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect released theatrically in India on 1 July
(Narayanan was accused of espionage in 1994 and was acquitted by the Supreme Court. He was awarded a Padma Bhushan in 2019.)