'I hope Rocketry will be my Nayagan': Madhavan

“I don’t think any actor understands rocket science the way I do. I know what the field is, and I have studied it extensively. So, I cast myself," says the actor.
A still from the film Rocketry: The Nambi effect
A still from the film Rocketry: The Nambi effect

21 July 2017, was when Madhavan last got a release (Vikram Vedha). Much might have changed in the last five years, but for Madhavan, the time has largely been spent on one film: Rocketry. The trilingual, which marks his innings as a director, writer, and producer, is all set for launch this July 1, and even after all this time, Madhavan says he is still consumed by the world of Nambi Narayanan.

“I haven’t thought of any other film and have been fully dedicated to this project. I remember waking up plenty of nights dreaming about Rocketry. It is still very much part of my system,” he says. “Sometimes, it was a bit frustrating to be so attached to one film. At the same time, I feel like a father of a bride. She will become a different person eventually, but I can just hold on to the memories of her. I don’t know how to process all these emotions together.”

Even though Madhavan has worked with elite directors in the country like Rajkumar Hirani, Mani Ratnam, and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, he shares that he didn’t know much about filmmaking before he commenced work on this film. “I didn’t know what to do. I was clueless about the right way to communicate with an editor or composer. I saw an interview with Tarantino, in which he mentioned that the job of a director is to find people who understand the story and convey the vision... This was an eye-opener. If I was comparing my filmmaking finesse with Mani Ratnam’s work or the dialogues with Rajkumar Hirani’s writing, I would have never made this film. I have realised that you can only learn the craft from the stalwarts; the art has to be your own.”

Madhvan shares that he found the life story of Nambi Narayanan to be as thrilling as a James Bond film. “An ISRO scientist, a Maldivian girl, the affair between them, a wrong accusation, and the final victory at the Supreme Court… These were the pointers I had when I began this project. I wanted to make a nice, simple film. However, when I met the man, I was stunned. I felt there was a lot more to his life than just these highlights. I felt that if we didn’t know about it, it would be a national disservice. People have a statue of the dog that went to space, but here, we don’t even recognise the man who made our rocket mission possible.”

Madhavan faced plenty of writing challenges. “Fitting the life of a man within two hours of film time is a challenge. When your protagonist is a person like Nambi Narayanan, it becomes close to impossible. Should I include that he won a case against the Supreme Court? Should I speak of him winning a Padma Bushan for making an extraordinary rocket engine? Should I talk about his sacrifices for the country?” he asks, rhetorically, and goes on to clarify that Rocketry won’t be just another “whitewash biopic”. “To make a person’s journey believable, I have to make them as human as possible and to do that, I have to show their flaws. I made sure I asked Nambi Narayanan the hard questions. Did he sleep with someone? Did he have an affair? He is arrogant, short-tempered, and impatient. You will see all this in the film. To draw attention to his success, I need to show his humanity.”

Madhavan never thought of another actor to play this role. “I don’t think any actor understands rocket science the way I do. I know what the field is, and I have studied it extensively. So, I cast myself.”
Madhavan, a huge admirer of Kamal Haasan, hopes that Rocketry will be his Nayagan. “It traces the entire life of the lead. I haven’t used prosthetics for the old getup. I used alternate techniques like hair-bleaching and realigning my teeth.” He also hopes he can make a follow-up to Rocketry if the film does exceptionally well at the box office. “The duration of this film isn’t sufficient to cover the life of Nambi Narayanan. If Rocketry does well, I can do a sequel. I feel that even if I made content for ten more hours, it would not be enough.”

The actor-director hopes to take a break from direction and production, and focus on acting for the next couple of years. “I select scripts based on the mindset I am in. Right now, I am a happy father, and I want to buy a house I don’t have. I am no longer the angry man. My interest is in making films that will elevate the way people look at Tamil and Indian people.”

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The New Indian Express