‘Rocket Boys’ is an astutely mounted period drama. It is a striking, ‘coming-of-age’ biographical series based on the lives of two brilliant scientists, Vikram Sarabhai and Homi J Bhabha, who pioneered India’s space research and nuclear programmes, respectively.
Their contribution to India being recognised as one of the leaders in space science and nuclear power is unparalleled.
Spanning from 1940 to 1963, the series, narrated in a non-linear mode, tells us how the two great minds met, their patriotic zeal, and the bond shared between them along with those whose lives intersected theirs.
This eight-episode series begins and ends with the launching of rockets. In the first episode, an amateur rocket is fired from Cambridge in 1940; the last episode ends with the take-off of India’s first indigenous research rocket being fired from the old fishing village of Thumba near Thiruvananthapuram in 1963.
In between these two above-mentioned events, the series with interesting creative choices delves into the lives of these two great minds, and we see moments of strained relationships between the friends, as well as between their loved ones, and how they stood by each other for the national interest.
The first six episodes mainly spend too much time focusing on their personal lives rather than their hard work. The last two episodes give us a rushed and superficial glimpse of what they have achieved at the national level.
Jim Sarbh plays the confident and “self-interested” Dr. Homi J Bhabha with aplomb. His over-familiarity with the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, constantly addressing him as “Bhai” is a bit repugnant.
Ishwak Singh plays the versatile, soft-spoken genius and a dynamic leader with equal self-assurance and poise.
Regina Cassandra essays Vikram’s wife, the Bharatnatyam dancer Mrinalini and the slender Saba Azad portrays Parvana Irani, whom Homi Bhabha fascinates but does not muster the courage to hold her back. Both the ladies cast opposite the leading men, deliver their acts with dignified composure and distinguished grace.
Rajat Kapur, otherwise a brilliant actor, as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is preposterously dramatic and over the top. He sticks out like an eye-sore in the series, with his irritating tone and demeanour.
As for the supporting cast, Dibyendu Bhattacharya as the friend turned opponent turned well-wisher scientist Raza Medhi, Arjun Radhakrishnan as the young, budding scientist APJ Abdul Kalam, K.C. Shankar as Homi Bhabha’s colleague at the Trombay Centre, and the rest of the cast, are all competent and they fit the bill to the tee.
Mounted with excellent production qualities, which include brilliant set pieces, and old-fashioned costumes, the era is captured precisely on a sepia-toned canvas.
Overall, despite its shortcomings, ‘Rocket Boys’ is a meaningful series that succeeds in both educating and inspiring the viewers, especially young minds inclined towards science.