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R. Madhavan: 'Rocketry and the story of Nambi Narayanan was a passion project'

R. Madhavan jumped headlong into writing, directing and acting in the biopic of a scientist who was caught in an espionage controversy. Madhavan says the film is about one of the world’s greatest rocket scientists.

June 30, 2022 / 07:10 PM IST
Actor R. Madhavan in a biopic on ISRO engineer S. Nambi Narayanan, who was charged with espionage and later found not guilty by the Supreme Court.

Actor R. Madhavan in a biopic on ISRO engineer S. Nambi Narayanan, who was charged with espionage and later found not guilty by the Supreme Court.

R. Madhavan, a pan-Indian star, is all set to release his first directorial Rocketry: The Nambi Effect on July 1 across the globe.

Madhavan’s film, which he also scripted, received a ten-minute standing ovation at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, where he premiered it to a select audience. On a whirlwind press tour across India, the Vikram Vedha star spoke about his passion project.

Rocketry: The Nambi Effect has stayed true to the life of Nambi Narayanan, and as everyone knows, it is not easy narrating the story of a real person on screen, and especially someone who fought a long, tough court battle.

Ask Madhavan why he chose the story of S. Nambi Narayanan, an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aerospace engineer who was charged with espionage and later declared not guilty by the Supreme Court, as his first script, and he explains: “There was no logical thinking or reasoning behind choosing this story as my first script. We were all totally moved by Nambi Narayanan’s story and his desire to tell the world what happened. We could not let that not happen.”

The Tanu Weds Manu star is also clear that he wanted to focus on Padma Bhushan Nambi Narayanan's achievements, more than the controversy he was embroiled in. Narayanan was the key person involved in developing the Vikas engine that was used in India’s first polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV), and he headed the cryogenics division at ISRO.

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In 1994, Narayanan was charged with espionage. In 1998, the apex court declared him not-guilty. But the tag of being a traitor stuck and Narayanan felt he wasn’t supported by ISRO during this period and he retired in 2001.

Was Narayanan confident that Madhavan could pull off playing him on screen and tell  the real story? “Yes, Nambi Narayanan did have reservations about this and whether as an actor I could understand the achievements of a rocket scientist and his own work,” says Madhavan. "But I didn’t want to make a movie about the case, I wanted to make a movie about his achievements. He was constantly judging me where I knew a little bit of physics to understand what rocket science was about and obviously being technologically and engineering-inclined I think I knew enough for him to say that I wish you were in my team by the end of the day."

Interestingly, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and Tamil film super star Suriya have made brief appearances in the film. “When Shah Rukh found out I was making this film, he told me he wanted to be a part of ‘Rocketry’ and I felt he was being polite and I thanked him. But he actually meant it and he didn’t charge a penny for it. I think it's more out of respect for Nambi Narayanan that he wanted to be a part of this film,” he smiles. Similarly, Suriya too shot for the film without taking any remuneration and Madhavan says he is blessed to have such well-wishers in the industry.

The actor is also quick to point out that he hasn’t even directed a film on an iPhone and jumping into directing a biopic came with its own set of challenges. Madhavan is happy with Rocketry, but thinks it’s time to focus on acting after this. “I am now happy to just act and leave the directing to others. My wife told me that if I take up another film, she’ll chuck me out of the house,” he laughs.

Rocketry: The Nambi Effect has been appreciated wherever it has been screened so far. So, what was the most challenging aspect for Madhavan in this film – was it as a scriptwriter, as a director or as an actor? “It was as a scriptwriter. I had to understand the rocket technology that Nambi Narayanan had created. If you are doing the biopic of a cricketer or writer or singer, you can explain that. But how do you explain the achievements of a rocket scientist – that too a genius? I had to understand the engine and show it in a manner that scientists wouldn’t cringe and at the same time, the common man would understand what he had made. That was the biggest challenge as a writer,” Madhavan explains.

The movie has been shot simultaneously in English, Tamil and Hindi, and has been dubbed in various other languages. Narayanan has seen the film and Madhavan has got his blessings, which he is thrilled about. “Without flattering myself – he said thank you for giving me the desire to live long enough to watch this film,” says Madhavan.

Rocketry: The Nambi Effect also stars Simran, Ravi Raghavendra, Rajit Kapur, and Misha Ghoshal, among others, and is produced by Madhavan along with Varghese Moolan and Vijay Moolan.

This interview was first published in Firstpost
Latha Srinivasan is a Chennai-based independent journalist whose passion is all things movies and her twitter handle is @latasrinivasan
first published: Jun 30, 2022 07:02 pm
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