Rocket Boys: Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh shine in an interesting and entertaining retelling of Indian history
  • Platform: Sony Liv
  • Release Date: 4/2/2022
  • Cast: Jim Sarbh, Ishwak Singh, Regina Cassandra, Rajit Kapoor, Saba Azad
  • Creator: Nikkhil Advani

A series like Rocket Boys should have been made ages ago. It is one of the biggest tragedies of this country that children and adults instantly recognize gangsters by their nicknames but wouldn’t identify a national hero from the past even if he was handed a portfolio of the man. This is not because people are not literate enough. It is because they primarily consume what is dished out through the popular mediums. Art, culture, books, and film play an important role in educating the masses apart from a country’s education system. In my humble opinion, films are the most powerful of these mediums as they not only reach a wider audience but also are highly affecting. They tend to stick with the masses because of the advantage of the format and its entertainment quotient. Thus if films and series wanted to inform a country about its heroes, it could jolly well do so with ease and help in nation-building. Sadly that is not the case with Indian film and television where for every Rocket Boys, there will be atleast 10 Gangubai Kathiawadis.

Coming back to Rocket Boys, I had a wonderful time watching this series and I could binge it in one sitting. One has to accept the fact that there were definitely elements, characters, and twists in the series where the creator took cinematic liberties and created fictional elements and settings through which they could dramatize certain aspects of the series and made the story a little more unpredictable and thrilling. While all of it is done with no harm intended to the central plot, it does result in leaving a few unanswered questions in the end and also leads the creators into conjuring characters that they couldn’t justify in the end.

Primarily, Rocket Boys chronicles the journey of Homi J. Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) and Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh) from their humble beginnings as inspired and dedicated youth aiming for the sky before India’s independence to molding the scientific vision and achievements of a free nation with their revolutionary ideas and scientific approach to problems by the time they attain towering status in the scientific landscape not only of India but the world. The series also takes a closer look at the love lives of the two and how it impacted their respective journeys. The creators also make it a point to document the different sets of challenges and also the different approaches to using science for development that the two take as they leap towards making India an international powerhouse.

There is a lot to like in this series. Jim Sarbh as Homi Bhabha is probably the best thing about the series. I have never seen Homi Bhabha in person and whatever little I could see from past images, it was apparent that Sarbh looked nothing like him. Interestingly his rendition of the man is so powerful and organic that within minutes of appearing on screen, he owned the character and the show. Through his astute mannerisms and subtle presentation of emotional expressions, he was able to make the audiences suspend their disbelief and accept him for the character that he was playing. I loved the fact that while he looked almost too young and pristine to play Bhabha in his sixties, the creators didn’t burden him with lackluster makeup and allowed the actor to make the audiences forget his age through his engrossing essay and control over them. This is the kind of respect that Nikkhil Advani shows Jim Sarbh and he pays him back with a scintillating act that is engrossing and inspiring from start to finish. I particularly loved the scenes that document the character’s interaction with Jawaharlal Nehru played by Rajit Kapoor.

Ishwak Singh essaying Vikram Sarabhai is equally good. Vikram Sarabhai is depicted as someone who is a lot more subdued but extremely romantic about everything in his life. While he is in awe of Homi Bhabha and his impulsive ways, he moves about his life in his own way. He does take a few rash decisions here and there but they are always backed by solid logic and reason. He is shown as someone who shuns his dreams to concentrate on something that he feels is more important. It is only towards the end of the series that he dusts off and brings out the dreams that he had long ago packed up someplace safe after he comes into contact with APJ Abdul Kalam. How much of it is real and how much of it is fiction is hard to say but the creators executed these portions well enough to merit their inclusion in the narrative. Ishwak has the perfect face, expression, and mild-mannered mannerisms to bring the key aspects of the character to life and he does so with aplomb.

The production design, costumes, and settings of the series are impeccable. I seldom comment on these aspects of a series or a film as I have always been a little considerate on these aspects where there was an engrossing story at the core. It must be added that believability and realism were key to ensuring that the audiences were hooked to the story of the Rocket Boys and that couldn’t be ensured unless the world that the characters populated felt real and lived in. The reasons for that are simple. This is a period biographical drama and we have seen some of the most lush and well-made period pieces over the years. The makers took special care to ensure that the series was right up there with the best in terms of production design, costumes, settings, and lighting.

The cinematography of the series is terrific. I have to club in the lighting with the cinematography as both aspects complement each other. The sequences were lit so well that purely because of the virtue of the lighting, some of the sequences were elevated in terms of their visual appeal. The angles were decided keeping in mind some of the surviving footage and pictures that will be accessed by some of the audiences who would be inspired by the story and might decide to do some more research about the titular characters. The editing complements both the story and the visual aspects of it. This is another element of the series that makes it endlessly enjoyable.

Having said all that, I felt that the makers wasted a little too much time on the love stories of the men and also the conspiracy theories. While the love stories were neatly executed, they added little to the overall portrait of the men. The men are shown compartmentalizing these aspects of their lives and never letting them come in the way of their respective work. The affair between Vikram Sarabhai and Kamala Choudhary is also documented but has no bearing on the story. Bhabha was awarded the Noble Prize twice for his achievements in Physics and this key aspect of his achievements is never referenced. Apart from these issues, the series is also marred by many factual and date-related inaccuracies. It was probably because it tries to condense a lot of storytelling in short bursts of drama. Thus, for all those who were planning to take history lessons from this series should look elsewhere.

What Rocket Boys is, is a celebration of two of the most brilliant minds that the world ever had the good luck of having. The fact that both these men were friends was another exciting and shocking aspect of their existence. It is an entertaining series that tries to be somewhat faithful to the larger story of the men but never compromises on its entertainment quotient. I had a good time with this series and that, I believe, will be the case with anyone who watches it with an open mind.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)    

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