“It’s not a challenge, it’s stupidity. I am a maniac to have taken on to directing this film, I had certainly not planned on that,” says R. Madhavan, on his directorial debut and labour of love, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.
The actor has pulled out all stops for this biopic on former scientist and aerospace engineer of the India Space Research Organisation ( ISRO) Nambi Narayanan who was falsely accused of espionage charges in 1994.
From writing and acting to directing and producing the film, Madhavan says his interest in the subject began with a ‘shallow idea’.
“I had just finished Vikram Vedha and was tired of doing films in dirty clothes in dirty locations. Then someone told me that there is a good-looking ISRO scientist who had an affair with a Maldivian woman and sold secrets of the Indian rocketry to Pakistan, and was brutalised and almost killed until proven innocent. I thought, ‘wow let’s do a poor man’s James Bond Film’,” says the actor.
However, after meeting Mr. Nambi Narayanan, Madhavan says he felt something was missing, which lead him to dig deeper into the story of this man who was angry and upset at being slandered by his own country.
Spending nearly seven months putting his first draft together, describing it as nothing less than a ‘potboiler’ of a story spanning five decades of Mr. Narayanan’s life, from age 29 to 79, further lead the actor to do things he had never done before like breaking his jaw to look like his younger self.
“I had decided I will not use prosthetics. I broke my jaw when I realised that your teeth and jaw are a giveaway of your age. It took a year and a half for me to look like my 29-year-old self. Then I gained weight to show the passage of years, it was all researched and done naturally.”
The film also stars superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Suriya, but had its own share of troubles with producers not willing to invest in a risky project and the director backing out at the last minute.
“Producers felt it was commercially non-viable since there is no romance or song and dance. With no director on board I decided to take on direction, something I have never done before. The choice was between shelving it or getting this story made,” says the actor.
Shot across eight countries, in three languages, English, Tamil, and Hindi in live sync sound, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect premiered at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.
When asked about Mr. Narayanan’s reaction Madhavan gets overwhelmed, “He just said you have given me a desire to live longer.”
An actor whose filmography boasts of several hits and critically-acclaimed films across Tamil and Hindi cinema in the past two decades, Madhavan is very matter of fact when it comes to the current blitzkrieg of southern content in the box office.
“Films that have done well like RRR, KGF 2, Pushpa, the actors are hardworking and don’t take their stardom lightly. But not all southern films do well and nor do all Bollywood films fail. With the recent success of Gangubai Kathiawadi or Bhool Bhulaiyan 2, you can see that the actors have made an effort and performed their hearts out—effort is key.”
When asked about turning Rocketry into a web series, Madhavan says “it all depends on how well the subject is received.”
Rocketry: The Nambi Effect hit screens on July 1st.