‘Rocket Boys’: Tribute to Scientific Luminaries

By Archika Khurana

STORY: This period drama chronicles the journey of two extraordinary Indian physicists—Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) and Dr. Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh)—who created history while building India’s future.

REVIEW: ‘Rocket Boys’ tells the story of two legendary physicists, Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha—colloquially known as “Father of the Indian Nuclear Program”— who was a researcher in Cambridge before he decided to stay in India and join CV Raman’s Indian Institute of Science. He worked as a physics professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) before founding and leading the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai. And Dr. Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai— internationally regarded as the “Father of the Indian Space Program”—was an Indian physicist and astronomer who pioneered space research and contributed to developing nuclear power in India. He also has a key role in the establishment of the Physical Research Laboratory and Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and a number of scientific institutions in India.

This biographical fictionalised drama, created by Nikhil Advani, Roy Kapur Films, and Emmay Entertainment, is captivating from the start, successfully recreating iconic moments from the past, particularly those that occurred in the pre and post Independence era. The concept by Abhay Koranne is both intense and inspiring for the viewers while narrating the real-life incidents of these scientists and their efforts to propel the newly independent and struggling country forward in the technology path.

Having previously worked as an assistant director on shows like ‘Mumbai Diaries’, ‘Yeh Meri Family,’ writer-director Abhay Pannu’s eight-part series is an awe-inspiring tale that mirrors the real-life events of the duo who first became friends and envisioned working on India’s nuclear program. It chronicles the early lives and struggles faced by Vikram Sarabhai, who began experimenting on his college campus, and Homi Bhabha, a science professor who is impressed by Sarabhai’s ideas and ongoing experiments, and how they bond and begin their journey to make India a nuclear power.

The later episodes also shed light on a budding scientist, none other than A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (essayed by Arjun Radhakrishnan) himself, who worked closely with Sarabhai on the first rocket launch into space. It also captures the role that former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (essayed by Rajit Kapoor) played in furthering India’s nuclear program. Additionally, the screenplay includes historical clippings that run alongside the narrative to substantiate the events that occurred between the early 1940s and the 1960s.

Two people deserve special mention here: the director of photography Harshvir Oberai, who recreated the pre and post Independence eras, and editor Maahir Zaveri, whose precise cuts aid in swiftly shifting the narrative between the timelines. Additionally, the vintage clothing outfits by Uma Biju and Biju Antony helped in recreating the era and adding a realistic-looking element to the story.

Jim Sarbh perfectly fits the skin of an eccentric scientist Homi Bhabha, who is highly focused on building a nuclear reactor. Right from his ascent to his well-suited attire, he is convincing in every frame. Vikram Sarabhai, a scientist from an affluent Gujarati family, is convincingly portrayed by Ishwak Singh. Unlike Bhabha, Sarabhai always wears plain kurta-pajamas, which reflects his outlook on life. Both are pioneers in their respective fields in India, and they share a unique friendship.

This drama delves deeper into their personal lives, with Sarabhai, son of an Ahmedabad-based industrialist, marrying Mrinalini Swaminathan, an Indian classical dancer. Regina Cassandra, who has acted in a number of Tamil films in the past, makes her debut as Mrinalini in this show. Whether it’s her dance performances or navigating the ups and downs of her rocky marriage, she looks put-together and stunning in every shot. Saba Azad, on the other hand, plays Parvana Irani aka Pipsi, a lawyer who falls for Homi. She looks lovely as a Parsi girl who is always supportive of Homi. Both have a very limited role in this male-dominated series about Indian science heroes, yet they do leave a significant impression.

The rest of the ensemble cast, including Rajit Kapoor as former PM Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Arjun Radhakrishnan as A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Dibyendu Bhattacharya as scientist Dr. Raza Mehdi, Namit Das as reporter Prosenjit Dey, K.C. Shankar as Vishwesh Mathur have prominent roles too. — Times of India