Made up villains and a bigger-than-usual dose of Bollywood-style flavouring makes the Rocket Boys’ return rather underwhelming. Despite a pitch-perfect Jim Sarbh as Dr Homi J Bhabha, impeccable atmosphere building and a story that’s riveting to the say the least, the show’s second run fails to live up to the greatness of its predecessor. Shoddy performances from the supporting cast are only partly to blame.
One of the shiniest stars in SonyLiv’s tiny galaxy, Rocket Boys season 1 arrived almost exactly one year ago. It was all things amazing and unexpected, starting from its wonderfully cast leads and supporting actors, well-written characters with equal amount greatness, gravity and flaws, acute attention to detail, that banger of a score, and a stunning production design–the likes of which were rarely seen on Indian OTT space. While most of these things carry forward to the second season, the most important ones don’t.
The story continues from 1964 with Homi Bhabha still hoping to make an atom bomb for India and Dr Vikram Sarabhai still dreaming of flying his rockets to space. However, both of them are faced with challenges from pacifists and auditors threatening budget cuts. Then there is also the CIA who would do anything to make sure India stays in its lane. The series charts the journey of these scientists, and then their men in Pokhran, 1974. A big majority of the second season focuses on the political turmoil in the lobbies of Teen Murti Bhawan, tussle with CIA and Vikram’s bad marriage situation. There is rarely any rocket building montages, exciting science tuitions or scenes between Homi and Vikram that gave the first season all its flavour.
The drama gets a bit excessive at times, and at other times, not dramatic enough. In a season packed with one death after another, including those of pivotal characters, none make an emotional impact. Almost each to-die character gets the same treatment and it loses effect even before the third, really important death comes around mid season (I would refrain from naming names just in case you also slept through history classes in school and want to avoid ‘spoilers’). Everyone marked by death writes emotional letters, leaves things unsaid and says their goodbyes right before they get poisoned, get a heart attack or get blown up to bits. And yet, despite all the creative liberties at their expense, witnessing these departures leaves little to no impact.
The creative liberties, instead, are applied in places where there was no need. Villains from last season get a full 90’s Bollywood treatment. Namit Das as Prosenjit Dey mouths the cheesiest lines as he conspires with K.C. Shankar’s Vishwesh Mathur in dingy alleys complete with that maniacal smile. Murder plots are cooked up that are so thinly veiled, you begin doubting the smarts of these great scientists for failing to look through them. And what they did to Mehendi Raza (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) is possibly the worst. A victim of mistrust, he screams and shouts all over the plot with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Neither the murder attempt was well written, nor the consequence of it.
Continuing on the subject of disappointing additional cast, we cannot not mention the underwhelming Indira Gandhi. An afro with a grey patch and white cotton saree does not a Mrs Gandhi make. Charu Shankar, who plays the former PM in the series, does not successfully carry her charisma, powerful stature or even the manner of speaking. The character rarely seems human with her wooden delivery and expressions.
That being said, Jim Sarbh still makes sure there isn’t a dull moment every time he is on screen. He is perfectly still when a scene needs him to be and so charming when things feel lighter. He seems to bring a lot of his own self to the mix as he ‘flirts’ with his men and flows in an out of rooms and scenes with beautiful ease. The final scene of the show reminds you just how much you will miss him when the end credits roll up. On the other hand, Ishwak does what he could with the almost boring writing that Vikram Sarabhai gets. A few emotional scenes do not strike a cord as much as his banter with Homi often does. Perhaps that is Jim’s charm working overtime.
While Rocket Boys season 2 may not be as impressive as season 1, it is still one of the best made series on Indian OTT right now. Rarely do you see such stellar production design, commitment to beauty and great music come together in a series. In a world where Hindi series and films still cannot dub properly, Rocket Boys is still a beacon of how to never mess with quality. If nothing else, just watch it to hear that amazing title track a few more times.