“Everything is impossible until it isn't,” says Homi J Bhabha (Jim Sarbh), the pioneer of India’s nuclear programmes, just before the first-ever rocket launch in 1963. Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh), with Bhabha and Abdul Kalam by his side, took the initial step towards modern India’s space odyssey.
To witness the historic event unfold, even on the screen, was an overwhelming and proud moment and given the earnesty with which it was played out (sans the over-dramatisation) made it even better.
Here we are talking about the newly released engaging eight-part series, Rocket Boys, which traces the lives of the two nuclear physicists and many unimaginable firsts of Azad Hindustan.
The directorial debut of Abhay Pannu puts forward not just the gifted scientists on paper, but the men, the patriots and revolutionaries that Bhabha and Sarabhai were.
It makes your heart swell in pride when you see them hoist the Indian National Flag at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore right in front of the British man funding their Cosmic Energy Labs.
Spanning two decades, from the 40's to the 60's, the show begins laterally with the ongoing World War II, while back home the Quit India Movement going at great guns. Amid the hostilities outside and communal tension within, these young visionary scientists are seen pushing their ideas to lay the groundwork for atomic and space research programmes.
One of the major reasons why the show works is the precision in keeping up with the timeline, providing an authentic view of the days created with those sepia shades, spectacular storytelling, and I can’t emphasise this enough, phenomenal acting.
Jim Sarbh as Bhabha, as long as he is on the screen, won’t let you take your eyes off him. As a passionate scientist, for whom even the sky isn’t limit, Sarbh delivers a compelling performance. However, oscillating between witty and aggressive (at times), Jim sometimes peeps out from behind Homi’s disguise.
Meanwhile, Ishwak Singh, who plays Vikram Sarabhai, contrary to his friend, comes in with a calmer demeanour and much more sentimentality. The great mind that Sarabhai was, his journey (both professional and personal) has been traced blow-by-blow. Singh, ably brings forth probably the truest essence of the character but comes off as sporadically bland.
And the show precisely loses its focus while delving far deeper into the personal front but we don’t mind that for two reasons— Saba Azad and Regina Cassandra. The two actors, who play romantic interest and wife of Homi and Vikram respectively, are not a blink-and-miss even in a period piece set in the 40’s.
Azad plays the outspoken and level-headed lawyer Pipsi while Regina, on the other hand, features as the Padma Shri recipient and Bharatanatyam dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai. Kudos to the makers of Rocket Boys who didn’t let slip these women’s achievements and contribution while praising great men.
Speaking of great men, in just about half-time, young A.P.J. Abdul Kalam enters the picture to further weave the history of science. With Arjun Radhakrishnan as Kalam a casting can't be more accurate than this. And I avouch that as he brilliantly holds his own against a slightly more seasoned star cast.
Far beyond the generic shows or even the present-day Bollywood biographical dramas, Rocket Boys, the engaging SonyLIV series comes pretty close to a flawless tribute to the nation’s unforgettable scientific luminaries.
All images from SonyLiv.