What a rocket, boys!

23 Mar,2023




By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik ChattopadhyayI just finished watching Rocket Boys Season 2 on Sony Liv.


With my 79-year-old mother sitting beside me, wide-eyed, ears perked up not to miss a single dialogue. We had finished Season 1 in one sitting, so taking two sittings to polish off Season 2 was a bit of a let-down, by our own standards of binge-watching.


It left a terrific after-taste… in the mind. Somehow it made me feel better about myself, the society I have grown up in and the ‘nation’ I belong to. Though not a great fan of the very concept of nationhood, this, for a moment made me break free from my self-imposed boundaries, and feel proud…very proud!


What makes this web series work for me? It is definitely dramatic. It is not always factual. It does fall prey to some stereotyping, whether it be the grimacing CIA officials or the underdog Raza. It has taken definite liberties with situations and dialogues, given the very lack of any evidence to prove otherwise. Yet, it is a terrific story!


It is not just the story of Bhabha, Sarabhai, Kalam and Ramanna. It is the story of a nation, just a decade young, trying to find its own feet and posture. It is the story of a nation that was carefully crafted, through a constitution, to be a lighthouse for the rest of the colonial world to admire and emulate. The India created in 1947 was more than a nation state. It was an idea whose time had come [to quote from Victor Hugo] of what a post-war, post-colonial, modern country should be like… diverse, inclusive, democratic, open, inquisitive, industrious, ambitious, assertive [not arrogant, mind you] and non-aligned. If a country of 300 million people of unending diversity could consciously choose be this in the 1940s, so could every new nation that followed.


This exactly is the story of Rocket Boys [RB]. Each protagonist stands for a certain value or weakness of the new India. Each character is a certain shade of grey. Apart from the CIA that has been depicted in dark black, all others are shades of grey… from light as in Sarabhai to very dark as in Mathur. Nehru is vulnerable. Shastri is indecisive. Mrs Gandhi is fragile. Everyone has weaknesses. Nobody dons a masked suit with a cape and flies off to save a young India from the evil Pakistan and the hawkish US. They are just as commonplace we are. Just that circumstances made them be in places and hold positions that required of them to direct and define a legacy.


This is what makes RB so endearing.

And a terrific lesson for brands. Three clear inspirations can be taken by any brand manager from the Rocket Boys.


Endless Engagement

This is the first quality of any successful marketing campaign today. It has to build quick bonding and then carry the target segment through an immersive journey. RB is as racy as any thriller you have seen. It is a bit like Tom Clancy and K N Panikkar rolled into one. Right from the start it is a roller coaster ride of adventure, intrigue and crime without the Mumbai underworld. The only reference to ‘Bhai’ is how Bhabha addressed Nehru.


Relatable Relevance

The timing is perfect. So are the characterisations, or most of them. As we are entering into our ‘Amritkaal’ it is always good for the younger generation to know a bit about the early ‘Samudra Manthan’. The youth need to get a glimpse into how things of utmost import happened before issues like regionalism, religion and right[eous] ownership became the narrative.


This is an era much before appeasement and invasions. This was an era of nurturing, questioning, scientific temper and a greater sense of bonhomie. This was an era that saw the subtle but sure transition from the Prime Minister being addressed as ‘Bhai’ to ‘Mrs Gandhi’. RB allows the young Indian to connect the dots and process the journey we have undertaken as a nation and where we stand today.


And it has been deliberately made in English to cater to a wider audience across India and even overseas. Making it in Hindi would have restricted its viewership and national appeal.


Inspiring Candour

The tone of voice through the webseries is charmingly disarming. There are the obvious moments of high-sounding statements, but they are exceptions. The state of the nation has been shown in a truthful manner. There is no unnecessary bravado. There is no superhero. Every character has a fair share of strengths and weaknesses.


Relationships have been sensitively depicted and nurtured, though a few characters like that of Kamla Chowdhry have been shown in a single dimension. But then doing otherwise might have digressed from the core narrative of how India became a nuclear power. There has been controversy around the fictional character of Raza Mehdi and how a stalwart like Meghnad Saha has been virtually ignored. But then, nobody’s perfect. Just like our nation is not. The characters grow and develop through the 16 episodes almost symbolic of the way the young nation slowly found its feet, reconciled with harsh realities, recalibrated after adversities yet relentless in its greater pursuit of creating a new world order… fearless, forthcoming and friendly with all!


For the entire team that created Rocket Boys, there could not have been a better tribute to a still unsure, bit confused but totally committed 75-year-young nation!


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