Having Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh play celebrated physicists Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai in Rocket Boys was a masterstroke in casting. The show won hearts (and Filmfare OTT Awards) with its first season and has returned with a second instalment. It follows the characters as they navigate science, politics and their tumultuous personal lives.
For Ishwak Singh, going into season 2 was at once a natural progression and a dream he hasn’t woken up from. As the show hits streaming, we caught up with the actor for an exclusive chat about the hit series, working with Jim Sarbh and nailing science talk.
How are you feeling about all the appreciation for Rocket Boys?
It’s kind of surreal. It’s strange, almost like it’s a dream and I haven’t really woken up. So I only see it like that because I haven’t had the chance to sit back and let it sink in. When I think about how much things have changed and how my work is being received, more importantly, the shows I’ve been a part of have garnered so much love. It’s a great feeling.
When you choose to do a biopic and stay with that character for so long, how do you go about forging a connection with them?
You have to deconstruct and lay it out, I’m still the voice through which you’re passing this character. So, if I have to be the voice, the only way to make it authentic is that you structure it in a certain way when it’s a living person. There’s a lot of learning involved. It has to be made your own which I think is not a mystical thing, it’s pretty basic. I say that because we’re all a part of this society and we have relatable emotions, and we have similar experiences. The magnitude might be different because it’s Sarabhai. He achieved so much but at a very micro-level, I’ve had a similar graph. It’s relatable. My experiences of studying architecture or working on stage and the changes I wanted to bring about or the relationships I’ve had with my mentors. I drew parallels from there. At the same time, it has to be rooted in the story. These things come with practice and submitting yourself to the part.
The show features a fair share of scientific jargon. How much research went into it?
It’s not just about science. It’s about personal life and the community. For me, it was important to know what the air was like in those days and if he’s a scientist then what kind of science was it – thermodynamics or particle physics, cosmic rays or astrophysics? So I did geek out on it during the lockdown. We had the time and the luxury to do that. My director Abhay Pannu really spoiled me and let me go down the rabbit hole. I would come back with specimens and go back to him. And he was aware of it all. So it shows how much research he did while making this show. He also kept pushing me to keep digging. It was a very harmonic set and part of the reason I was able to prep the way I did was because I was given that leeway. Jim would make time for me, we’d all get together and read scenes. It’s that honesty that reflects in the scene. When I see some of the scenes now I think, “damn, that was good!”
Having a good actor to collaborate with always helps so how much did sharing screen space with Jim Sarbh or even Jaideep Ahlawat help?
It’s everything I think. Having a great co-actor is half the battle won. You could create various scenarios in your head about how a scene plays out but when you go out there and jam with the other person, and that person is equally immersed and gets his magic to the playground, something extraordinary happens. Maybe it’s your personal rapport or something in the story but it all takes over and something extraordinary comes out. And you never thought of it during rehearsals on your own. That’s one thing that I’ve experienced.
What’s one that you learnt from them?
Of course, I go out there with an awareness of who I am but every time when I get on a set, and recently I’ve had great co-stars Jaideep Ahlawat and Jim Sarbh, it’s not a particular thing but you magically get their qualities. What’s great about a good actor is that they’ll go out there and bare it all and at that point, it’s almost like you have the opportunity to pretty much take on and possess their craft. It’s almost like a window. It makes you stronger and a better actor. Jim was out there giving it all to the scene. It’s up to you if you can take it up. These guys have given me their whole craft and now it’s there with me.
What was the one thing you wanted to explore going into Rocket Boys Season 2?
It’s a very natural progression from Season 1. What I really liked is that Sarabhai remains rooted in his initial ethos and his core. It builds and expands and the show is only bigger and brighter. It’s a worthy successor. The character remains true to who he is. It’s very inspiring. I mostly find it inspiring because the show speaks of a time when men of honour existed. It’s the good old days just the way they spoke and debated, there was a lot of mutual respect. There was importance given to academics and collective growth. Those things are so important.
How much of the expectations weigh on you?
I never see it as better or worse than the first instalment. When you read a story and have a plan it’s all about that day on set or that line. So you distil it to that level and take one step at a time. Things just work out that’s what I’ve always done. Of course, the reception is a part of it. The process of filmmaking is only complete when the show is out there and the audience sees it. So there’s anxiety and excitement. When I watched it for the first time the questions did play out in my head but not so much. For some reason, I have that sense that it will find its place.
What has changed in terms of the kind of scripts coming your way?
If you see starting with Paatal Lok and Rocket Boys, everything has been very inspiring and motivating. It’s made me get out of my comfort zone and want to give the shows and films I’m doing my everything. I’ve been busy shooting back-to-back in the last two years. I’ve just been wanting to give it my all and the success says that whatever I’ve done is up my alley. Across the board, in terms of genre, I’m doing very different work which means that there’s someone out there who thinks I’m versatile enough to take up these different genres and take up these different characters which means that makers have faith in me. It’s all about getting work that comes with a good script. And when I say a good piece of literature, it’s something that resonates with you and is rooted in good storytelling.
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