ROCKETRY: THE NAMBI EFFECT (2022)

Simran and Madhavan in a still from the film
  • Release Date: 01/07/2022
  • Cast: Madhavan, Simran, Rajit Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan (Guest Appearance)
  • Director: Madhavan

Rocketry is Madhavan’s heartfelt apology to one of the greatest Indian Scientists ever

— Ambar Chatterjee

Madhavan’s Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is an ambitious project because it has practically nothing that is synonymous with what we take modern entertainment to be and what rolls in the big money. It is an ambitious project because by making it, Madhavan has entrusted crores of rupees in investment on the subtle sense of giving in to a story for nothing more than the story itself for an audience that isn’t known for supporting such ideas. It is an ambitious project because it feels more like a documentary than a feature film. It is an ambitious project because it doesn’t even call out the people who were instrumental in destroying Nambi Narayanan’s life and yet is able to make a strong case for him and the unspeakable sufferings that he was subjected to. It is an ambitious project because it had the audacity to let the actual Nambi Narayanan take over the titular character in the last few sequences of the film and tell the fictional interviewer, Shah Rukh Khan that his apology on behalf of the entire country was not enough. 

Madhavan not only plays the titular character but also writes and directs the film. The path that he takes through the story is made evident in the initial few moments of the story when the character of Nambi Narayanan thanks Shah Rukh Khan for asking a key question about his past achievement and not starting his interview by asking him about the scandal that made him infamous. His sadness at being recognized for the controversy more than the path-breaking work that he did all his life is the axiom on which the film pivots initially. As we move through the narrative, we understand his achievements as we get to see him leap from one impossible task to another and almost always complete it with precision and speed.     

While Nambi Narayanan is toiling hard to turn dreams into reality, he does at least one despicable thing, but that he does not for himself but for the mission and the greater cause. While it was unacceptable, it was something that he did, knowing full well that he was committing a sin. Nambi was always prepared to pay the price for it. He even tells his colleague, who was at the receiving of his cruelty, that he should mete out the same treatment to him if he ever found him in a similar predicament. Interestingly, his achievements prove to be so pathbreaking that after a while even his team members forget the thing that he did to get to that point. Madhavan did his best to maintain a level head about the character even though his hero-worship of the man was evident. He not only showed the few things that Nambi did wrong but was gracious enough to not justify the character’s actions but leave it to the audience to judge him for it. 

The real Nambi Narayanan

Nambi Narayanan was a genius, and his thinking was ahead of his time. The country should have made use of his efforts to launch its own Cryogenic rocket engine in time to make a splash in the space race. Instead, what he got was insult, pain, and disrespect after being falsely accused by a man who is now in jail on similar charges and his plot to character-assassinate one of the most beloved leaders of the country. While this serves as the big ending of the film, the film spends most of its time defining the achievements of Nambi’s life. It even documents some of his more personal moments.

These are the portions that most audiences will have some issues getting through as they are executed with absolutely no drama and kept as realistic as possible. There are also a lot of scientific jargon and concepts used to further the narrative that most people will not understand. Madhavan doesn’t try to explain these jargon so as to not water down the performances. While I appreciated this aspect of his direction, it will undoubtedly prove to be an issue for all those who walk into this film looking for entertainment and a comprehensible story.

Madhavan is present in almost every frame of the film, and he makes the most of the screen time that he gives himself. He is not only able to make us feel for the character of Nambi Narayanan, but he also effectively builds up the emotional weight behind the character that makes the latter half of the film and especially the culmination of it emotionally devastating. If it was not for the amount of time that is spent on developing the character through the first half, this kind of an impact was impossible to pull off. For many, this might not be enough, but then again this isn’t a film for everyone. 

Madhavan in a still

I was on the same page with Madhavan’s performance and direction for most parts of the film. The only issues that I had with the film were with the ones that have been plaguing Indian films for ages. Apart from a few characters most of the foreign actors are again over the top and feel caricaturish. Even some of the supporting Indian actors dial-up their performances to the level 100 and there was no need for doing so. The director should have been responsible for managing these elements of the film, but he lets them run amok. The issues with these performances feel more pronounced since Madhavan himself turns in such a calculated and nuanced performance and most of these actors have to perform side-by-side with him.     

It is safe to say that Rocketry: The Nambi Effect is not a film that you watch for entertainment. This is a film that you watch for its story, direction, and the heartfelt performance of its leading man. This is a film that you watch to see the cinematic realization of a story that is shocking and questions the very morality of the people in power and their attitude towards a dedicated few. This is a film that you watch to understand and applaud the indomitable spirit of a man who dedicated his life to the country, was branded a traitor, and then fought his way through all the misery to prove himself innocent. While Rocketry: The Nambi Effect may lack the aspects that define an entertainer these days, it is definitely an essential watch for the factors mentioned before. It may even prove to be entertaining for the ones who let its moody and yet cerebral storytelling take over their senses.   

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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