R. Madhavan’s “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” focuses more on dramatization rather than documenting the life of Mr. Nambi Narayanan, whose name is lost in the history of the nation. Indian films have adopted one basic idea from Hollywood: to pick up controversy and make a film on it or around it. But, the major issue in this approach is that the Indian films do not have an appealing narrative to justify the emotions or the importance of the subject that they deal with. They do their research right at times, but then at the end of the day, it is the melodrama that fills the screen, and most often, it is as unreal as it can get. “Nambi” was an enormous opportunity that came once in a lifetime. He was an opportunity for ISRO to achieve great heights, as well as an important subject for the Indian docu-drama films to leave a mark on the audience. But neither ISRO nor R. Madhavan acknowledged the actual value of the person or his journey. The story of “Nambi” revolves around his scintillating life, but “Rocketry” was more of a look back than an authentic homage to the man.
The main problem may be in the foundation of the film. R. Madhavan is a prolific actor and a gift to Indian cinema, but his decision to direct such a big project is where the problems crept in. When “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” ends, and on-screen says, “story, screenplay, dialogues, and direction by R. Madhavan,” it is exhausting. The research was apt, and so was the beginning of the film. The scenes where the police caught Nambi left the audience thinking. But, when Shah Rukh Khan came to the screen, the entire sequence was executed in haste. It was like Madhavan was in a hurry to get to the part where the police tortured Nambi. Even while establishing some theories of physics, it felt like cold reading of facts and figures without any emotional value attached to those words. So, was it a complete waste of time? Or did the film have some striking aspects too? Let’s understand that.
What Happens In ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’?
The film starts with a sequence where Nambi (played by R. Madhavan) is having a pleasant time with his delighted family. Right after breakfast, everyone is headed out to their respective destinations. The locals have already read the newspaper, and they came to know that Nambi shared crucial information with Pakistan. Suddenly, everyone from Nambi’s family was attacked. Nambi was taken to the police station, and then there was a jump cut where we found him, sitting in front of Shah Rukh Khan. He is questioned about his achievements and the turmoil he faced throughout his life by none other than the King of Bollywood himself. As SRK began questioning Nambi, the first question that he asked him was about his mentor in ISRO, Vikram Sarabhai (played by Rajit Kapoor). Nambi explained how he was inspired to work with liquid fuel technology while APJ Abdul Kalam was bringing revolutionary results in the solid-fuel.
Nambi was the first scientist from India to get a call from Princeton University with a complete fellowship program. Nambi wanted to explore his boundaries in liquid-fuel models, but he had difficulty talking to Professor Luigi Crocco. As Professor Crocco stopped coming to the university because of his wife’s illness, Nambi went on to visit him. Nambi took care of Crocco’s wife, and in return, Crocco granted his paper. He also helped him connect with Professor Scott at NASA to have a three-month fellowship there. There, Nambi came to know of another British-born Indian scientist, Barry Amaldev. Soon, NASA offered him a tremendous amount of money to work with them, but Nambi Narayanan moved back to India to work with ISRO.
From that point, the duo in ISRO, i.e., Sarabhai and Nambi, guided Indian rocketry towards unexplored possibilities. Sarabhai wanted Nambi to continue with his liquid-fuel technology, and in 1971 a great deal was signed. Nambi was in Scotland meeting with the legendary Col. Cleaver, the CEO of Rolls Royce. The meeting gave India a massive benefit in budget allocation, as they had paid nothing to get the 400 million pounds of machinery. Nambi came back to India and decided to gather 52 scientists who would go to France to understand their liquid-fuel technology. In 1974, a group of scientists from India went to Vernon, France, and there they gathered all the knowledge required to build “VIKAS,” India’s first liquid-fuel-based engine.
After the success of VIKAS, Nambi aimed for a cryogenic engine to help India launch itself into the market of commercialized satellites. As Nambi projected his next steps with the Russians, securing their support for Indian rocketry, the US interfered. From there on, the destruction begins. Sarabhai had also passed away, so there was not much support from ISRO in Nambi’s ventures. The dream of building a cryogenic engine was halted when Nambi Narayanan was accused of exchanging information with Pakistan. The accusations were flawed, and the evidence was fabricated, yet Nambi was tortured physically and mentally. A CBI officer took charge of the investigation and proved that there was no case against Nambi.
Nambi fought for his rights and won his case in the Supreme Court. But, the turmoil doesn’t end there. It was still a mystery who was behind everything and why no one from ISRO came forward while Nambi was suffering. At the film’s end, the real Nambi Narayanan came, and Shah Rukh Khan apologized on behalf of the rest of the country. But, Nambi Narayanan, with his hands folded, asked SRK not to ask for forgiveness as he wouldn’t be able to forgive. When SRK was asked about the money he had not received from the government as promised, he said he wanted every single penny of compensation.
‘Rocketry’ Ending Explained – Who Conspired Against Nambi Narayanan?
There was a possible hint about who gave the information to IB to stop Nambi from creating a cryogenic engine. Remember the scientist from NASA when Nambi was doing a fellowship? Barry Amaldev. “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” ends with two parallel sequences providing information about Nambi and Barry. Where Nambi was leading a very ordinary life, Barry Amaldev was living in aristocratic luxury. Even Barry was seen following Nambi on his every venture in France or Russia. NASA has had prolific success in the commercialized satellite market. If India had collaborated with Russia, they would’ve made a cryogenic engine at minimal cost, and their demand in this sector would have surpassed every other competitor. America couldn’t let this happen, being as insecure as they are. So, they made Barry Amaldev follow every movement of Nambi Narayanan.
Later, when Nambi was close to gathering all the parts from Russia to make a 500 kg cryogenic engine, they made a deal with IB. The selected officers from IB put together a vile case against Nambi, and then the torture began. It is evident what Barry did as there was a scene between him and Nambi where he talked about the possibilities of NASA. He never realized why Nambi rejected the gracious offer from NASA and decided to join ISRO. So, to answer the question, who was behind everything that happened to Nambi Narayanan and his family? It was not IB or even Barry Amaldev. It was the CIA.
There is a chance that Barry Amaldev was an agent of the CIA, as no scientist in the world has that kind of security and aristocracy. So, my theory is that Barry was an agent put in NASA by the CIA when professor Crocco first made the call to Professor Scott. As Nambi had this brilliant mind, he was being monitored from that time, and when he finally rejected the job offer from NASA, the CIA decided to keep an eye on him. This is why he was followed on his European tour by Barry Amaldev. While Barry Amaldev, or whoever he was, became one of the heads of the CIA (based on the high security and aristocracy) in India, Nambi Narayanan was driving his scooter in India, demanding the rest of his compensation promised by the Kerala Government.
Madhavan delivered the facts quite precisely, but he hurried the screenplay in some places. The second half of the film had the touch of Indian drama at its most. Everyone shines. But, the first half was all about the facts and achievements of one of the greatest minds in India. The problem was that there were only facts and a very ordinary set design with little or no emotional value. It looked like the intention was to deliver the facts, not to make a good film. The VFX sequences are oftentimes terrible; also, the cinematography is very average. There were no such visual changes in the color tone between the shots in Europe and the shots in India. Although, apart from “Sardar Udham,” this particular segment is pretty much unexplored in Indian documentary dramas. And the background, too, has been really disappointing. Now, let’s talk about the performances of the actors.
If you cast Shah Rukh Khan in a film, it is always difficult to pass a judgment on him. He is a master of complicated skills, i.e., the subtlety behind his prolific stature. While Madhavan was answering the questions, it seemed very disturbing as SRK’s expressions were shown again and again in cutscenes. Let the man speak in motion, please! R. Madhavan seemed a bit like himself rather than Nambi Narayanan. The most disappointing of all was that, being a brilliant actor himself, he never improvised any visionary through the character, thus leaving no impact on the audience. On the other hand, Simran as Meena Narayanan was superb. Her dedication to the role was striking, and at the end of “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect,” she left the audience stunned with her performance. The other characters were not so bright, apart from Sam Mohan as Unni and the CBI Officer. Rajit Kapoor was given a longer screen time this time around, and like always, he was more like Byomkesh Bakshi than Vikram Sarabhai.
The Vikas Engine And How India Paid
The one good thing about “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” was the demonstration of the VIKAS engine. When everyone thought the ignition would last for 30 to 90 seconds, including the Indian scientists who expected it to last for 135 seconds, VIKAS exceeded all expectations as it carried on until the end of the fuel, which is almost 180:05 seconds. This achievement resulted from 52 scientists staying in France for three long years doing detailed research on the liquid-fuel engine systems. This engine helped India cover the Mars Mission with minimal expense. Without Nambi Narayanan, none of this would have happened.
Then, until 2019, Nambi Narayanan was almost forgotten, fighting for the money that the Kerala government promised. He had this chance to become the director of ISRO, but thanks to our beloved nation, he was driving his scooter and searching for the answers. The scientist responsible for India’s three operational rockets, i.e., PSLV, GSLV, and GSLV Mark 3, was finally acclaimed with the third-highest civilian award, “Padma Bhushan,” in the year 2019. Some might say it was an excellent achievement for a guy who had been tortured for almost a decade. But, think about what India could have achieved with Nambi Narayanan as the director of ISRO. His patriotism was beyond this “Padma Bhushan” award, as he wanted to make India proud in front of the world.
There was a scene where Nambi Narayanan visited a doctor with his wife as she was suffering from deep shock. It was raining outside while they got into an auto. Soon, they were thrown out of the car, and Nambi’s “dhoti” had worn off. Nambi Narayanan was trying to wear his ‘dhoti’ and pick his wife up from the road while asking for a ride. There was this Indian National Flag. It was a top-view shot focusing on the national flag while Nambi Narayanan was trying to get help. The man who left NASA’s gracious offer to contribute to ISRO, the man who was known for his patriotism, is now trying to gather his “dhoti” in front of the national flag. This is what India did to Nambi Narayanan, one of the greatest minds ever born in India, arguably in the world.
We can thank R. Madhavan for depicting the journey of a great man on screen, if not for an average documentary drama. R. Madhavan might have failed to create a good film, but he brought to us a story that needed to be told. This film had to happen, but maybe in a better way.
“Rocketry: The Nambi Effect” is a 2022 Indian Biopic Drama film directed by Madhavan.