S Nambi Narayanan: The man behind the movie ‘Rocketry’


New Delhi, April 5: It is not often that a film trailer evokes interest among cine-goers and actors alike and that is what the recently launched teaser of ‘The Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’ did. Praised lavishly by Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Hrithik Roshan, among others, it is written, directed and stars popular actor Madhavan.

Based on the true events related to S. Nambi Nararyan, an Indian Space Research Organisation, falsely accused of espionage, not many either know or remember this bespectacled and unassuming scientist. Who he was, what was he accused of and how he managed to get justice?

Reading about him, many readers are bound to immediately connect him to Edmond Dante, the main protagonist of the famous literary classic ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ by the French author Alexandre Dumas. Like him, Narayanan’s happy and steady life was turned upside down, when he was hauled for being a traitor.

Nambi Narayanan who?

Born in a Tamil Brahmin family in Nagercoil, Travancore, Narayanan, while working in Thiruvananthapuram’s Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station, was inspired by Vikram Sarabhai, the then ISRO Chairman, to study at Princeton. In a record time of 10 months, he completed the master’s programme in chemical rocket propulsion.

Foreseeing the need for liquid fueled engines, Narayanan as the ISRO’s cryogenics division introduced the technology in the country in 1970s. Ironically, this is what he was accused of selling to others.

US pressure

To circumvent US pressure to scuttle the agreement between India and Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic fuel-based engines, it was decided to fabricate four engines along with two mockups. Following this, a global tender narrowed down on an Indian company to do the fabrication.

Alas! it was at this stage that Narayanan, at the height of his career, was accused of being a spy and leaking important defence secrets to two alleged Maldivian Intelligence officers, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauzia Hassan. Accused of overstaying, it was during Rasheeda’s interrogation, the cops made a case that she contacted ISRO scientists suspected of transferring the technology. This led to Narayanan’s arrest along with D. Sasikumaran, another ISRO scientist, both of whom were accused of passing secret documents to foreign countries, especially Pakistan.

With Pakistan being named, there was a frenzy among the public for punishing the guilty.

Interrogated by the Intelligence Bureau, Narayanan claimed that he was subjected to torture and asked to implicate other ISRO officials.

Amazingly the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation within 20 days of it being registered. It was in 1996, CBI in its closure report stated that spying allegations were unproven and false leading to the discharge of the implicated persons.

Continuing the crusade

Having borne torture and tarnishing of reputation, in 2013, Narayanan filed a case seeking justice and exposing of the conspiracy behind his plot to tarnish him.

The three-judge Bench of the Court in 2018 ordered a compensation of Rs.50 lakh to Narayanan for ‘mental cruelty’ and for being ‘unnecessarily arrested and harassed’ by the Kerala police, though the State Government decided to pay Rs.1.3 crore. In 2019, he was conferred the Padma Bhushan Award. A committee under Justice DK Jain was also set up to look into Narayanan’s complaint against police officers who framed him.

Celluloid version

In 2017, Madhavan announced that he will be acting in the biopic The Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, describing it as the ‘extraordinary story of an unsung hero’ who was ‘neither an actor nor a sportsman’. Besides acting, Madhavan also shares credit for screenwriting and direction along with Anant Mahadevan.

What Madhavan says in the released trailer sums well the entire crux of the movie and the ill-famous case. ‘My name is Nambi Narayanan. I spent 35 years in rocketry and 50 days in prison. My nation paid the price of those 50 days and this story is about that. It is not about me.’

Hopefully, the nation will wake up to the fact that there is much more to this case than meets the eye and it needs to be revealed!

(This content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)