Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

‘Rocket Boys’  shows a promising start….  

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Two well-known Indian scientists, C.V. Raman (Karthik Shrinivasan) and Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh), are seen joking around in the opening sequence of the new SonyLIV series Rocket Boys. When: 1940; location: Indian Institute of Science. Awed by the company and humbled by the occasion, the third person in the library, who is considerably younger than them, remains in the background. He’s here for an interview and will soon become a well-known personality himself: Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh). The “tryst with destiny” of the nation is still a few years away, but its brightest brains have started to cooperate – and grin.

These sequences are uncommon in Hindi film since it has traditionally had a tense relationship with the spirit of scientific inquiry. Academics are portrayed as obnoxious dweebs who only serve to highlight the fuss-free hero and are depicted as college vales or professors. Bollywood has always mocked classroom instruction, associating it with “authority” that the hero uses cunning tactics to “beat.” Such plays also lack the patience for a thoughtful discussion of science. In the world of escape cinema, these simplifications make sense: scientists don’t have glamorous careers, male magnetism, or seductive appeal. Or otherwise, they’re not sufficiently “entertaining” and beneficial.

In spite of the biopic’s explosion as a subgenre in Hindi film over the past ten years, which has included a wide spectrum of athletes, leaders, and even gangsters, it has mostly ignored Indian scientists. Such representations are so uncommon that I recall seeing anything like about eight years ago (a National Award-winning documentary, The Quantum Indians, chronicling the lives of Raman, S.N. Bose and Meghnad Saha). Therefore, Rocket Boys is a novel and overdue departure since it centres on the personal and professional lives of Bhabha and Sarabhai.

Abhay Pannu wrote and directed the first episode of the SonyLIV series, which was created by Nikhil Advani. Because of their cultural and socioeconomic distinctions, Bhabha and Sarabhai have strong, distinctive personalities that tell a mini-story about the aristocracy in pre-independent India. They both come from wealthy backgrounds, yet there are some significant characteristics that set them apart. Sarabhai is genuine whereas Bhabha is cynical. The dapper Bombay kid is more at ease speaking English, whereas Sarabhai, an Ahmedabad native, speaks modest Hindi. By the early 1940s, Bhabha was a well-known scientist; Sarabhai, who was still earning his name in science, is cautious and self-conscious. Making India a scientific superpower is the common goal of two individuals with very different personalities.

The first two episodes also excel in other respects. Consistently credible acting is displayed. As Sarabhai, Singh excels, honing his stern demeanour (last seen in Pataal Lok). Sarbh gives one of his greatest performances as a humorous, sarcastic scientist who can be both empathetic and petty. This type of characterization, at the level of both script and acting, is unusual for Hindi plays. Singh and Sarbh have incredible chemistry together and are a superb example of a classic “bromance,” so much so that when they have their first significant argument, it nearly seems like they have broken up.

The writing, too, illuminates and entertains: the academic portions are not dumbed down. Sarabhai and Bhabha’s eccentricities make them accessible and endearing and a constant undercurrent of humour elevates our intrigue. The production design stands out – the old eras and scientific settings are recreated with determined realism. Sharp cinematography and editing give the first two episodes a pleasant rhythm and tone, and compelling consistency. The long passage of time, from 1940 to the mid ’60s, simultaneously telling the story of a nation in transition, materialises with impressive control.

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