The intelligently conceptualised show does more for nationalistic pride than a dozen jingoistic series, applauds Deepa Gahlot.
Amidst the line-up of crime shows, family dramas and campus capers, Rocket Boys dropped like welcome rain after an arid summer last year. The series about scientists was both entertaining and educative.
At a time when the country seems to be regressing instead of looking forward, and a scientific temperament is sorely lacking in the influential layer of society, Rocket Boys told the story of two great scientists, Dr Homi Bhabha and Dr Vikram Sarabhai, who dreamed of making India a superpower. Their plans had the enthusiastic support of the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The wonderful, handsomely mounted series, produced by Nikkhil Advani and Siddharth Roy Kapur, directed by Abhay Pannu, followed the work of Bhabha and Sarabhai as well as their personal lives, from their days as students at Cambridge to their initial achievements.
Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) came to be known as the father of India’s nuclear programme and Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh) steered the country’s space programme. Flamboyant and witty, Bhabha romanced a vivacious lawyer Parvana ‘Pipsy’ Irani (Saba Azad) and the sombre Sarabhai married the ambitious classical dancer, Mrinalini Swaminathan (Regina Cassandra).
There was, of course, criticism about the over-simplification of the science, and the introduction of a fictional rival, Raza (Dibyendu Bhattacharya, who was a Muslim; but when the show had everything almost to perfect level, it is a hard act to follow).
Rocket Boys Season 2 sees the two scientists in their labs but also takes the action out to catch a country facing post-Independence growing pains. There is opposition to allocating funds to their fanciful plans, when they could be better utilised in poverty alleviation.
In the last season, the trouble in the Sarabhais’ marriage was clear as were the disagreements between the two men over the use of nuclear power.
The CIA was already sniffing around to nip any risks to America’s world domination; spies were introduced in the form of a devious journalist (Namit Das) and Mathur (KC Shankar), his mole in Bhabha’s team.
A young, long-haired A P J Abdul Kalam (Arjun Radhakrishnan) had made an appearance.
Is it possible to take the story ahead without compromising on quality?
The second season has less substance to work with because a lot of the interesting incidents had taken place in the first.
Rocket Boys 2 picks up the issue of nuclear proliferation and India’s need to be a strong power between the US, the USSR, and hostile neighbours China and Pakistan.
In quick succession, India loses two strong prime ministers — Nehru (Rajit Kapur) and his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri (Vijay Kashyap) — while Indira Gandhi (a terrific Charu Shankar) slowly gathers force while in office.
A conspiracy hatched by the CIA (the Americans are portrayed as caricature heavies) results in Bhabha’s death in an air crash. Sarabhai, who launched a satellite mission to take television to the masses, is hesitant about signing a one-sided treaty with the Americans.
The series inevitably moves to the cloak-and-dagger tactics that were adopted by the scientists to carry out a nuclear test in Pokhran in May 1974, under the noses of the CIA. (This story was told in the successful 2018 film, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran).
Even if the 10-part show has a few drab passages, it succeeds in engaging the viewer looking for an intelligently conceptualised (Abhay Koranne) and written (Pannu and Kausar Munir) show, with an attention to period detail that is admirable.
The performances are fabulous, particularly Jim Sarbh, who is puckish, charming and determined as Bhabha.
Ishwak Singh and Regina Cassandra get to portray fewer shades but they are magnetic all the same.
The team of scientists, bureaucrats and politicians who surround the lead characters do their parts sincerely, which goes towards making Rocket Boys Season 2 a fascinating watch.
Its small flaws can be overlooked for the grand larger picture, that does more for nationalistic pride than a dozen jingoistic series.
Rocket Boys 2 streams on SonyLIV.
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