'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect' — Madhavan's Brilliantly Crafted Movie On Life Of Visionary Technologist, Patriot A Must-Watch For Every Indian

'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect' — Madhavan's Brilliantly Crafted Movie On Life Of Visionary Technologist, Patriot A Must-Watch For Every Indian

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jul 3, 2022 12:42 PM +05:30 IST
'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect' — Madhavan's Brilliantly Crafted Movie On Life Of Visionary Technologist, Patriot A Must-Watch For Every IndianRocketry: The Nambi Effect
  • This is not just a movie, not just entertainment.

    It is an apology from the heart of the people of India to a great son of India, the visionary technologist and patriot Nambi Narayanan for the crimes committed against him by a few heartless men using the state machinery.

Of late, there have been a plethora of movies that are using (though the word 'exploiting' may be appropriate too) the patriotism market.

While refraining from naming any movie here, to understand, one should take Kaalapani (1996) as the point of reference. It was not heavy on graphics or superhuman antics. Instead, it told a quasi-imaginary story of a wrongly convicted person set in Andaman.

The humanistic and patriotic enduring of inhuman brutality of the British raj made the ordinary prisoners become patriots. The portrayal of Savarkar in that movie and the oil mill and a massacre of prisoners can still make one's eyes misty.

On the contrary, in a few recent 'patriotic movies', the overdose of graphics and impossibly superhuman heroic stupidity saturated the screens and spilled into vulgarity.

In this context, actor Madhavan's movie Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is refreshingly brilliant. It is based on the autobiographical book by Nambi Narayanan, Ready To Fire (Bloomsbury).

Rocketry opens with a rendition of Sri Venkatesa Suprabhatham — the hallmark of most middle-class religious Hindu households of southern India — in the house of the rocket scientist on the early morning of his arrest and ends with Narayanan receiving the Padma Bhushan.

The film's first half is the human story of the scientific institution-building in the first 40 years of the independent Republic of India. Rocketry shows how young Indian space technologists were continuously striving against all odds in a techno-apartheid-filled world to secure technology for India and be self-respecting equal partners in building global space technology.

Revolving around a young Narayanan, the movie captures vividly the portals of learning and how a determined young man learns what he has come to learn now without deviating from any temptations.

Narayanan's bonding with the family and his guru bhakti towards Vikram Sarabhai is depicted as a faint melody in the background without being loud and melodramatic.

Rocketry shows Narayanan winning the trust of a recluse, retired space technologist so that Narayanan can learn from him by serving him and his deceased wife. When witnessing this scene, it is hard for one not to identify it with the deeply ingrained gurukula instinct among Indians.

The psychological pressure, sacrifice, and enlightened selfishness for achieving a goal that definitely breaches into an inhuman moment are also shown, again without making it very dramatic and, hence, is more convincing and impactful.

Here, the movie takes some artistic liberty with respect to truth. If the movie deviates from truth towards melodrama anywhere, it is here. But that is understandable. Interested folks can read about Balakrishnan, a brilliant mechanical engineer, and the tragedy he faced even as he was working in France.

Every time a foreign location is shown in an Indian movie, this reviewer feels a sense of frustration. Foreign locations are shown only as a backdrop for exaggerated hip gyrations of Indian actors and little else. What an archaeologist of movies will have to say about Indian film sets in foreign lands, except that they were all glorified mating calls and almost nothing else! Madhavan has removed that stigma for Indian movies.

The director (also Madhavan) has to be congratulated again for creating nail-biting suspense culminating in the testing of Vikas engine (a family of liquid fuelled rocket engines conceptualized and designed by ISRO's Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre) in the French space research facility. Madhavan has accomplished the tough job of taking a technical, scientific subject — literally rocket science — and communicating it interestingly to viewers, who consist primarily of people like us with no technological knowledge.

The second half of the movie shows the foisting of a false case, the torture, how Narayanan came out of it, and finally, him getting justice. However, this is no sob story. Instead, it brings out the events in perspective with what was happening in the emerging unipolar world with techno-apartheid expanding into a crumbling Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

It suggests how ruthless intelligence agencies can be in stopping developing countries from becoming equal partners in space technology.

This reviewer had an opportunity to listen to Narayanan's interview to a Tamil TV channel. Here, he says he was tortured to implicate the entire top brass of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Had he yielded to torture, then the entire ISRO could have collapsed as a credible national space agency aspiring to become (and now fast-becoming) an international space agency.

ISRO, in fact, has been one of the very few science institutions in India free from any government and political interference. Perhaps, it has its own internal politics, like every other institution, but it is unique and has been collecting accomplishments very quickly for being a developing country's government space agency. This scandal could have destroyed ISRO.

Ever-humble and realistic, Narayanan gives credit to his fainting under torture for not implicating the top brass of ISRO in this well-fabricated scandal. But India's space achievements today are owed to Narayanan on two vital counts. One for his visionary study of liquid fuels and another for standing against torture and not giving in.

Even today, Narayanan thinks this scandal only delayed Indian space research. In reality, but for his refusal to talk, it could have destroyed ISRO and made it into just another corrupt, petty sarkari department.

Narayanan is bigger than what he gives himself credit for.

Rocketry is set through flashbacks of Madhavan as the old Narayanan in a TV interview, getting interviewed by a famous actor (Surya in the Tamizh version, Shah Rukh Khan in the Hindi one).

As the movie nears its end, the realisation hits you that it is the real Narayanan, not Madhavan, sitting there. It is just beyond brilliant.

Usually, talented artists in our film industry also have a narcissistic tendency of portraying the character from start to finish. But to bring the real hero instead of the reel hero at what is the crescendo of the movie takes guts, and it has an impact on the viewers that has to be experienced and cannot be done justice through words.

I could hear gasps from the audiences at various points as they realised this change in the film.

Despite this reviewer being against the political gimmicks of Surya, the actor should be congratulated for accepting to play this almost-guest role. Perhaps, Surya could also learn from the movie that a true story can be told without changing the villainous characters' community identity.

There are voices about the Hindu symbols shown in the movie. Again, they are neither loud nor forcibly integrated. Narayanan is a religious person and India is a deeply religious society. So, it is natural that religion surfaces in the lives of individuals at their moments of pressure. To read into that any communal toxicity is more a commentary on the perversion of those who make such a commentary than on the movie.

It is the duty of every Indian to watch this movie. Every Indian parent should take their children to watch Rocketry and they will understand what patriotism really is.

This is not just a movie. This is not just entertainment. It is an apology from the heart of the people of India to a great son of India, the visionary technologist and patriot Nambi Narayanan for the crimes committed against him by a few heartless men using the state machinery.

To make that apology, one must be brave and sincere, besides being brilliant. Madhavan is all that.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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