Rocket Boys is the kind of story that the Oscars and the people at BAFTA look for. It is history, truth, science, reality, and bright, brilliant, unique and very special people, positioned in a time gone by which was pivotal and covers pages and pages of our history textbooks.
The Imitation Game meets 1917, something even like Ford vs Ferrari in its strong and memorable characterisation. In sepia shades, spectacular set design, and top-notch acting, storytelling, direction, and music, with actual footage from back in the day and audio to go along with it, this show is here to win slow, steady, and big.
Rocket Boys is made with the kind of precision and perfection of Scam 1992 or The Crown.
The two spaces in which content is mostly created and craved these days is of muscular nationalism, rooted in ancient or modern history and then, of small-town gangster crime dramas, this comes as a breath of fresh air.
It is deeply patriotic and is a story about proud men and women who have great love and pride for an India that is yet to be born and discovered. These are not men of guns and ignorance, of senseless violence and crassness, they are not crude or vulgar or disappointing, no hinterland violence and corruption, these are men of science, thought, good whiskey, greater literature, and nuance.
These are men of prestige, of ideals, of vision, of dreams, these are men to stand side by side with Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. The story spans the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s and in it, we meet some of modern India’s most well-known and loved figures, after whom there are numerous roads and places named. Vikram Sarabhai, Homi J Bhabha, and APJ Abdul Kalam to name a few, are household names.
One cannot grow up in India without hearing of these men and their patience, resilience, and drive that changed the face of the last century, but beyond the name, fame and awards, who were these men? What were they like together? How did they get along and when was there friction? How were they when they were in love and what, was it that broke their hearts or spirits? These are the questions this show tells us.
We meet the suave, cocktail wielding, snarky, witty, and very bright Homi J Bhabha (a name I have added to the list of dead people I want to have dinner with), a nuclear physicist and his protege, Vikram Sarabhai, a scientific mind from a business family, a mild-mannered, sweet and humble man, a softer feather than his guru. It is this difference in personality that causes much of the conflict in their lives.
As India nears the end of the heinous British Raj, domestic institutions, colleges, science, research and more is being given strength and power by leaders like Nehru, Shastri, and more. Nuclear energy becomes the promise of tomorrow, the promise that in an independent India, every house in every village will have electricity, and to accomplish this herculean task, Bhabha and Sarabhai set out to do all they can.
In the meanwhile, Sarabhai falls in love with a dancer from another state and culture (much to his conservative Gujarati business family’s dismay), Bhabha also courts a loveable woman who comes and goes like magic. They make many enemies in the scientific fraternity and the British nobility both.
Funding is sometimes difficult, sometimes monarchies and leadership are, sometimes it is family that is an obstacle, and sometimes it is unions and leaders and members of those unions that fail to see what’s right and wrong for themselves and in turn the nation and what’s more?
As India’s nuclear programme starts to strengthen, the CIA gets insecure. How dare anyone, let alone a third-world country, try to get ahead? Blasphemy! In short, there’s a lot going on, and stitched together very beautifully and smoothly. Then, on top of all this, India stands on the brink of a geopolitical crisis and it is this crisis that becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sarabhai and Homi just can’t seem to see eye to eye on this one, and for all their prior disagreements, different styles of approaching, love, life, research and pretty much everything, this one is too much for them.
A more aggressive, passionate Homi and the milder, softer Sarabhai become a thorn in each other’s ways, and not to forget, the other enemies, jealous rivals and political pawns are still stitching a web around these men to make them fall. What will happen? This one, you need to watch.
The show is clean, seamless, visually beautiful, the cinematography, set design, and music score are champions and Jim Sarbh, much like all the other cast, is outstanding.
For many, this will be a show which will give you heart-swelling moments of hope, love, and inspiration for India and make one shine with pride at being an Indian, but it will also, brutally, tell you the truth about why this country fails when it does- because there is a constant struggle between protecting and preserving archaic thought in the name of religion, patriarchy, propriety, politeness and more and then, there is the India of the people, who are sick of being held back because of the same.
There is an India that doesn’t want to accept a modest or defeatist attitude, an India that does not want to always smile and bow their heads. They want to be fierce and channel the energy of Shiva or Ma Kali and want to go out like a light doing it.
One of the primary reasons why the show works and resonates today is that the struggles of the people of this country remain largely the same all these years later.
For all self-declared nerds who enjoy slow-paced dramas, this one’s for you. I think Rocket Boys paves the way for many writers to make the bold choice of delving into India’s mostly untapped modern history for the screen. Maybe we can finally move away from boring, done to death and predictable sports biographies and reach into those Indian history textbooks.
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