Bengaluru's scientists and science historians are disappointed with Rocket Boys

The scientific community in the city is highly disappointed with the portrayal of characters, the heavy dramatisation, and incorrect information.

author_img Monika Monalisa Published :  24th February 2022 06:34 PM   |   Published :   |  24th February 2022 06:34 PM
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A poster of Rocket Boys

It is hard to not binge watch a series like Rocket Boys, which has been the talk of the town, especially since it involves eminent Bengalureans. The show, which chronicles the life and journey of nuclear scientist Homi J Bhabha and physicist Vikram Sarabhai, takes the audience through moments of history in the field of science. However, the scientific community in the city is highly disappointed with the portrayal of characters, the heavy dramatisation and incorrect information. 

“Why did the makers have to come up with fictional characters in the first place?”, questions science historian and filmmaker Jahnavi Phalkey. “There was no need for that. It could have been true to history, and could have recognised the great work that was done by the eminent scientists of those times. They didn’t have to glorify anyone or anything,” says Phalkey, the founding director of Science Gallery.

The show introduces a fictional character by the name Raza Mehdi, who is shown to have played a significant role in Bhabha’s life. Though a fictional character, Mehdi, the physicist bears much resemblance to Indian physicist Meghnad Saha. In fact, Saha was one of key figures in the scientific community, who, along with Satyendra Nath Bose, carried out the first English language translation of Einstein’s relativity paper. “The ’20s and ’30s was a very heady time for Physics in India, this was also the time when CV Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Saha initiated the establishment of an experimental nuclear facility, a cyclotron, in Kolkata. He also spoke to Russians to get India’s first nuclear reactors. Saha’s contribution was immense,” says Phalkey.

The city-based science historian explains the relationship between Saha and Bhabha who, despite several differences, shared mutual respect for each other. “In one of the letters they exchanged, which I have gone through, they discuss why science in India is not moving ahead. You don’t talk or exchange ideas with someone you don’t respect,” says Phalkey, adding that something like this could have been showcased.  

Bhabha and Sarabhai met at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which was then headed by CV Raman. The Nobel laureate, who is shown to have a calm demeanor in the series, was quite the opposite in real life. “Raman fought with everybody. He was brilliant and a very good scientist. He had a very strong professional network in India and abroad. But going by the archives, what I can say is that he was far from calm,” says Phalkey, adding, “He had very strong opinions and would spare no bones asserting them. He was not a very easy person to be around.”

In the series, Bhabha disapproves of Mehdi, saying he supports the Muslim League. Bringing in a religious angle was uncalled for, says Phalkey. “There was no need of bringing that angle in. Scientific development has been backed by the Tatas, Birlas, aristocratic families of Bengal and also from princely states. The Indian Institute of Science was founded as a Tata initiative and land was given by the Maharaja of Mysore,” says Phalkey.

Careful documentation required

Tarun Souradeep, director, Raman Research Institute, says, “Science communication should be done in a very professional way. The onus is on the person writing it. I understand that you are trying to reach the masses, but not at the cost of being factually incorrect. There are organisations which have carefully documented facts about prominent people like Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha.

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