“Rocket Boys” is an ode to the great Indian minds, among many other things. They were the “mad scientists,” as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru dubbed them. India was free from colonial rule, and it was an era when the socio-political landscape of the nation was swiftly changing. Under the leadership of Pandit Nehru, the nation was making strides and creating its own identity.
In the scientific area, the fabled duo of Homi Jehangir Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai were at the helm of affairs. They laid the foundation of many institutes that today have become reputed research strongholds for the country. The series has been directed by Abhay Pannu, and the story has been conceptualized by Abhay Koranne. Let’s try to assimilate whether Rocket Boys was able to bring something authentic to the plate or was it another series that had the potential on paper but missed the mark in its execution.
“Rocket Boys” Plot Summary
Vikram Sarabhai had to come back from Cambridge University due to the looming war. His father knew that he would be utterly disappointed to leave his studies in between and come back from the U.K. in such haste without utilizing the full potential of his gifted abilities. Without telling anyone, his father had applied for him at the Indian Institute of Sciences. That’s where the Nobel Prize-winning Indian physicist, C.V. Raman introduced Vikram Sarabhai to Homi Bhabha. Sarabhai came onboard, and together they successfully replicated Millikan’s balloon experiment in order to study cosmic rays in the upper stratosphere. It also kickstarted a friendship that survived through the thick and thin until the end.
Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha came from affluent backgrounds, a category that is often misrepresented in a stereotypical manner whenever we talk about the era in which India was fighting for its independence. This class was often blamed for being colonial loyalists, and staying true to that perception, the makers have not shied away from addressing that issue.
Homi Bhabha was someone who didn’t believe that taking part in congressional rallies would do any good to the nation. He knew that he could help his nation while staying true to his passion, i.e., bringing about a system of scientific inquiry and research-oriented aptitude that the nation would need after getting independence. But Sarabhai convinces him to show some rebellion even outside the scientific field. Together, they bring down the Union Jack at the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bangalore and ultimately irk William Cranshaw, the trustee, so much so that he stopped funding the institute.
When Vikram Sarabhai proposed to open ATIRA (Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association), Homi Bhabha warned him that he was trying to juggle too many things and that he should focus on one thing at a time. But these brilliant minds were so determined to succeed that failure was the least of their worries.
Was ‘Rocket Boys’ Raza Mehdi Based On A Real-Life Scientist?
Though the character of Raza Mehdi was not based on any real-life scientist, it took the narrative to a greater height. Without the conflict created by Raza Mehdi’s character, the series would have been devoid of that eccentric meatiness that was so significant in bringing a distinguished tinge to the “Rocket Boys” series.
If Homi Bhabha saw himself as the uncrowned emperor of the scientific fraternity, then Raza believed himself to be the worthy alternative, who should be given a fair chance. Pandit Nehru favored Homi as he had family terms with him. Owing to Homi’s privileged background, he was always surrounded by influential people in powerful positions. On the other hand, Raza had made his way from the ground up. He had fought for the basic necessities of life. He had created an international communication channel and was able to run an institute successfully. Getting grants for researchers has its own politics. It was not so easy to get money for research work in a country that had other greater problems to cater to.
In “Rocket Boys,” Raza Mehdi played the role of the sole dissenter and often felt sidelined. He came at loggerheads with Homi during competing for the Tata grant, in which Homi convinced JRD Tata to start the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Homi Bhabha was named as the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and it raised the enmity that Raza Mehdi had towards him.
The character of Raza Mehdi is so well-written that at no point can you treat the actions of the character as being unjustified. It is normal to feel a twinge of envy when you see somebody who didn’t have to face the challenges that you did. Who didn’t have to fight for every bit of food and basic necessities? He lives an affluent life, and everything that you crave for is served to him on a platter. Raza knew that Homi was talented and deserved the position as much as he did, but he was not able to get above the feeling that there was an entitlement nepotism at play, and just because Homi knew people, he always got the better of him.
Yes, favoritism helps, sometimes in a drastic manner, but Raza would have taken the same advantage if it was offered to him. But as they say, a strong nemesis has the potential to become the strongest ally. The makers did harp upon that very facet and created a gratifying and complex character arc that is often hard to find.
‘Rocket Boys’ Ending Explained – Was Homi Bhabha’s Death Planned?
The United States intelligence agencies never wanted India to become a nuclear power. Homi Bhabha was given the green signal by Pandit Nehru to make India’s first atomic bomb. He knew that being a part of the race was the only way to keep the enemies at bay. Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mount Blanc, in which Bhabha was traveling from Bombay to New York. All the passengers on the flight were killed. Many theories were propelled, but none of them were proved beyond doubt. It was said that Robert Crowley, a CIA official, had planned the crash in order to bring India’s nuclear program to a halt.
In the “Rocket Boys” series, to add a dramatic fervor to these conspiracy theories, it was shown that the CIA contacted Raza Mehdi to get intel about India’s nuclear plans. But Raza spills everything in front of Homi, making him aware of the danger. It is shown that there were leaks within the system that led to the death of India’s pioneer of nuclear energy, Homi Bhabha.
I felt the story started at a slow pace, and it felt a bit stretched while trying to establish the characters and the premise. But that was only for the first few episodes of “Rocket Boys.” I quickly became invested in these characters, mostly because of the crisp writing and compelling performances.
The best part about the screenplay is that it never glorifies the protagonists. It never tries to be preachy and thus saves itself from being redundant. It neither becomes biographical in nature nor tries to inculcate pseudo patriotism. It stays true to its scientific subject matter. Yes, there are glitches, and it is not a perfect piece of writing, but the electrifying screen presence of Jim Sarbh and a calculative performance by Ishwak Sinh help you sail through them easily. The best addition was, in fact, the fictitious character of Raza Mehdi, played by the talented Dibyendu Bhattacharya. He owns the character effortlessly and gives us subtle nuances that make him stand out in a crowd of brilliant performers. Be it the introduction of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam or the story behind the first rocket launch in India, the series recreates many moments that give you goosebumps and ooze out a sense of pride in one’s nation.
“Rocket Boys” is a 2022 Indian Biopic Television Series streaming on Sony Liv.