From working in Vernon to his biopic premiering at Cannes; Nambi Narayanan's French connection

ChennaiWritten By: Sidharth MPUpdated: May 05, 2022, 11:08 PM IST
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ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan. Photograph:(DNA)

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'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect', which marks R Madhavan's directorial debut, sees Madhavan playing the titular role, will have its world premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival

Veteran Indian Aerospace Scientist Nambi Narayanan is well-known for jointly developing the Viking-3 rocket engine with Indian and French Space scientists in Vernon, France. However, his French connection doesn't end there. In fact, it has only gotten bigger. The scientist's upcoming biopic 'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect', which marks R. Madhavan's directorial debut and sees Madhavan playing the titular role, is to have its world premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France 2022 on May 19th. This is also happening at a time when India and France are celebrating 75 years of diplomatic relations and the Cannes Film festival steps into its 75th year. 

Having his biopic premiere at Cannes would be a special moment for the octagenarian aerospace scientist, who spent a considerable period of his professional life in France, working to co-develop an advanced rocket engine. From 1974 to 1980, a team of 100 Indian scientists(in different batches), led by Nambi Narayanan, were in Vernon, France to jointly develop the 60-ton-thrust Viking-3 Engine, under a pact. The development of this engine was an exponential level-up for India, where the space programme was then in the very nascent stage. 

On their return to India, the Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO)team led by Nambi Narayanan developed the Engine further, into a complete stage that could be fitted into India's then under-development PSLV rocket. While the French called their engine Viking-3, Nambi Narayanan named the Indian equivalent as 'Vikas'. Vikas means development in Sanskrit, but Nambi saw an adapted anagram - Vikram A Sarabhai, the Father of India's Space Programme and a man whom Nambi considered his guru. 

A large part of India's PSLV rocket’s success and reliability is owed to its Vikas Engine, that was co-developed by ISRO and French SEP Engineers. It was Princeton-postgraduate ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan(now regarded as the Father of Liquid Propulsion engine technology in India) who had worked towards ensuring that India focussed on improvising its capability in liquid propulsion rocketry. Notably, this Vikas engine powers the PSLV and GSLV rockets, even today.

Despite his stellar contributions to the country, the scientist was wrongly arrested by the Kerala police based on a fabricated case, at a time when he was scaling the peak of his career and aiming to exponentially increase India’s capability in launching heavy rockets. Known as the 'ISRO Spy Case', it is a dark, lesser-known and embarrassing chapter of Indian history. It took several years for Narayanan to be acquitted in the case, however, the errant officials of the Kerala Police and Intelligence bureau that are said to have fabricated the case and framed him are still scot-free.

'Rocketry' is widely regarded as a special film and a breakthrough, as science-based biopics are a rarity in Indian cinema. Notably, this would also be the first film that is exclusively made based on the life of an Indian space scientist. The trailer of the film indicates that it captures the highs and lows of Narayanan’s career and his contributions to the country’s space programme and how the fabricated ‘spy case’ had an adverse, irreversible impact on his life, and career and reputation.

'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect' is slated to hit the screens worldwide on July 1st 2022.