The intelligently conceived show does more for nationalist pride than a dozen chaotic series, applauds Deepa Gahlot.
Amidst the slew of crime shows, family dramas and campus capers, rocket boy fell like welcome rain after a dry summer last year. The series about scientists was both entertaining and educational.
At a time when the country seems to be regressing instead of looking ahead, and a scientific temperament is sorely lacking in the influential stratum of society, rocket boy told the story of two great scientists, Dr. Homi Bhabha and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who dreamed of making India a superpower. Their plans found the enthusiastic support of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The wonderful, beautifully edited series, produced by Nikkhil Advani and Siddharth Roy Kapur and directed by Abhay Pannu, followed Bhabha and Sarabhai’s work and personal lives, from their days as students at Cambridge to their early successes.
Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) is best known as the father of India’s nuclear program and Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh) steered the country’s space program. Flamboyant and witty, Bhabha married feisty lawyer Parvana ‘Pipsy’ Irani (Saba Azad) and somber Sarabhai married ambitious classical dancer Mrinalini Swaminathan (Regina Cassandra).
There was, of course, criticism of the oversimplification of the science and the introduction of a fictional rival, Raza (Dibyendu Bhattacharya, who was Muslim; but when the show had everything near perfect level, it’s a tough act to follow).
rocket boy Season 2 sees the two scientists in their labs, but also takes action to catch a country struggling with growing pains after independence. There is resistance to funding their imaginative schemes when they could be better used to fight poverty.
In the last season, the problems in the Sarabhais’ marriage were as clear as the disagreements between the two men over the use of nuclear power.
The CIA was already snooping around to smother any risks to America’s world domination; Spies were introduced in the form of a sneaky journalist (Namit Das) and Mathur (KC Shankar), his mole on Bhabha’s team.
A young, long-haired APJ Abdul Kalam (Arjun Radhakrishnan) had appeared.
Is it possible to advance the story without compromising on quality?
The second season has less substance to work with because many of the interesting incidents happened in the first.
Rocket Boys 2 tackles the issue of nuclear proliferation and India’s need to be a strong power between the US, USSR and hostile neighbors 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 great Charu Shankar) slowly gains strength in office.
A conspiracy hatched by the CIA (the Americans are portrayed as cartoonists) results in Bhabha’s death in a plane crash. Sarabhai, who has launched a satellite mission to bring television to the masses, is reluctant to sign a unilateral deal with the Americans.
The series moves inevitably to the cloak-and-dagger tactics used by the scientists to conduct a nuclear test at Pokhran in May 1974 in full view of the CIA. (This story was told in the hit 2018 film, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran).
While the 10-part show has a few dreary passages, it manages to captivate the viewer looking for an intelligently conceived (Abhay Koranne) and written (Pannu and Kausar Munir) show, with an admirable attention to historical detail.
The performances are fabulous, especially Jim Sarbh, who as the bhabha is mischievous, charming and determined.
Ishwak Singh and Regina Cassandra can display fewer shades, but they are still magnetic.
The team of scientists, bureaucrats and politicians surrounding the main characters sincerely do their part, which comes to fruition rocket boy Season 2 a fascinating watch.
Its small flaws can be overlooked for the big picture, which does more for nationalist pride than a dozen messy series.
Rocket Boys 2 Stream on SonyLIV.
Rocket Boys 2 Review Rediff rating: