Jim Sarbh, Ishwak Singh and Regina Cassandra on bringing iconic characters to life in Rocket Boys
Jim Sarbh, Ishwak Singh and Regina Cassandra on their latest web-series based on the story of the Indian Space Program and what it takes to bring iconic personalities from history to life
In the last few years, India’s space programme has intrigued the citizens of the country enough that there are multiple films and series offering a glimpse into what it takes to leave a mark outside our planet. Sony LIV’s latest offering Rocket Boys, an eight-part series, takes one back in time as it brings to the screen the story of two extraordinary men, Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Dr Homi J Bhabha, as they walk us through the creation of the Indian Space Program. Bringing their story to life are actors Jim Sarbh (as Dr Homi J Bhabha) who has cemented his position with projects like Padmaavat, Neerja and Taish and Ishwak Singh (as Dr Vikram Sarabhai), who shot to fame with Pataal Lok. Also playing a pivotal role in the series is Regina Cassandra, a popular name in the South who made her debut in Bollywood as Sonam Kapoor’s love interest in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, who is getting into the skin of Mrinalini Vikram Sarabhai. Ahead of the premiere of the show, we spoke to the star cast about what it takes to bring iconic personalities from history to life and what are their expectations from the show. Excerpts from the chat:
Q. Congratulations team. The trailer has received a very warm reception. What was your reaction after watching it?
Regina Cassandra: Thank you! The trailer has got over 25M views and that feels amazing. We did know we were making something good but when I saw the reaction — in the first four/ five hours, it crossed a million views — I was like ‘what’s happening?’. In one day, it crossed 10M views and I was like this is incredible. Everyone everywhere was talking about it, asking about it and I was overwhelmed.
Ishwak Singh: I also saw the trailer for the first time with everyone else and it was amazing. It gave a glimpse into the show and what’s amazing is the reaction to different aspects of it, including Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s entry at the end, which everybody loved, including me. That moment gave me goosebumps.
Jim Sarbh: The first three teasers were a bit more thoughtful and had moments that were quieter and introspective. (However) the trailer does a good job of reflecting the kind of show that we had the experience of creating - a fun show where these great luminaries were just being people. People who thought very quickly and were deeply intelligent but were also going through the struggles that they normally would and were trying to have a good life at the same. They were trying to solve the problems in the way that only they could while remaining sophisticated, mercurial and charming people and by all accounts. For instance, if you talk to Mallika Sarabhai, daughter of Dr Vikram and Mrinalini Sarabhai, she would tell you how much fun it was to be around them. They were entertaining, funny and full of stories. So, I was really glad that it came out (in the trailer).
Q. What does it take to essay real-life people and that too celebrated personalities like Dr Homi Bhabha, Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Mrinalini Sarabhai?
Jim: The brilliance of our writer-director Abhay Pannu is that in addition to having brilliant sensibilities, a great sense of humour, real knowledge about filmmaking and a very clear vision, he creates a very welcoming collaborative atmosphere. So, everybody comes to the set knowing that they have been given responsibility by him (Abhay) and that he really wants to see what you can do and what you can bring which leads to everybody feeling that their worth is valued. Consequentially, the whole team and crew, everybody involved, trying to do not only their best but also trying to do that ittle bit extra.
He also kept reminding us of the fact that these are just people trying to live their lives so instead of cardboard cut-outs of characters because they are straight-jacketed by the legacy of their greatness, we kept reminding ourselves that they also had lighter moments, that they also woke up with a bad mood… at the end of the day even Pablo Picasso had to go out and buy a pair of socks.
Regina: From the point that I got to know that I am playing Mrinalini Sarabhai, I knew that I need to get some work on my Bharatnatyam because when it comes to the scene, I know there are a lot more people working on it, in terms of your dialogues and I think Abhay (Pannu, writer-director) and Kausar (Munir, dialogue writer) did an amazing job. So, the first thing was to get a teacher but since we were in the middle of a pandemic and everything was shut, there was no learning to do in person so I took classes via Zoom. So every morning there would be two hours of Bharatnatyam and that’s how it started for me because to play a classical dancer is one thing but to play someone who is a pioneer, someone who initiated the conversation around social awareness through art, through her dance is altogether another thing. And, these aren’t people who lived ages ago, these are people who were alive until recently and are known by people so to be able to pull it off and to have everyone who knows her giving a nod of their approval was a task.
Ishwak: It was a collaborative process. We did a lot of workshops and a lot of discussions with the director. The preparation itself wasn’t a singular approach. The canvas was big and it was about doing things together, having actors work together, sharing notes, discussing dialogues and jamming with the director. Abhay and I had a lot of exchanges on dialogues, regarding how they should be said and the context behind it and it was amazing that he gave me space to bring forth my ideas and also incorporate them in his writing. Besides, I read a lot of books on them, interacted with people who knew them, including their family and tried understanding them on a human level.
Q. Lastly, the series is out today and many have great expectations. Does it excite you or add to the pressure?
Jim: I am taking it day by day. Of course, I am nervous and excited. This point feels like the last week of rehearsal before a play where you are like ‘I want to do it for the audience. I don’t want to do it for the rehearsal’. I have started to feel like that — Just show it to them already! Can I wake up directly on Feb 5, please?
Regina: It is my first OTT. I am really looking forward to it. Everyone has put in a lot of hard work. I am waiting to see what this hard work looks like. I know what it feels like, I want to see what it looks like.
Ishwak: It is a very honest and earnest effort and I hope that honestly comes across. I have seen how Abhay has kept things together through these difficult times. I hope his honesty, hard work, passion, commitment comes across. I have a belief that people would appreciate it for sure. It is not right for me to draw parallels or say it is going to be as big as this or this, but I am sure it will get its place, the place it deserves.
Did you know that Jim Sarbh has Dr Homi J Bhabha’s desk at his residence?
“We have conducted this interview with me sitting on a desk which used to belong to Homi Bhabha. My grandfather started the first private art gallery in India called Pundole. My uncle took it over and then turned it into an auction house. At one point, the contents of Jehangir Bhabha Estate, his house where he lived, were being auctioned off for it to go to one of their many charitable funds. So, I was leafing through the catalogue, obviously, I couldn’t afford it, but there was this beautiful desk. I asked my dad what does he think about it and suggested he buy it. I didn’t know that he actually bid for it and got it for me but he gave it to me for my birthday. So, I have been working on Homi J Bhabha’s desk for about nine years.”