Not Just Rocket Science
Actor R. Madhavan on donning many hats for Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, keeping his swimmer son grounded and why SouthIndian cinema is thriving
Besides having acted in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, you are also the film’s producer and director. How did you juggle so many roles?
Making this film was not a rational or financially viable decision. But all that did not matter to me or my funders because we had met this man calledNambi Narayan. We heard his story.It was all-encompassing. I took on the mantle of writing the film simply because I understood the subject the most. There are few engineers in the acting fraternity who’d understand the extent of his achievement and contribution to the country. He is a rocket scientist, a genius and also a patriot.
Was it tough to make audiences understand or interested in rocket science?
As a writer, director and producer,you’d never want to make a film that’s so technically advanced and so intellectually high that the public cannot understand it. But this is the same audience that went and watched Interstellar, Inception and Gravity. We have made films on our freedom struggle and historical epics like Mughal-e-Azam, but there’s another extraordinary aspect of India which we have decided not to look at—science and engineering. Our engineers and scientists have gone around the world and made us proud because they couldn’t do so sitting here in India.
Most biopics in India end up seeming like hagiographies ...My first question to Dr. Nambi Narayan was, ‘What are your most inhumane qualities? I wanted to know how this 75-year-old man looks at himself and how he would answer. In most cases, a man would say, ‘Look who you are talking to!’ But he didn’t bat an eyelid. He told me his flaws and they frightened me. I thought I was smart and brave but this man was at another level. This film will tell you the story of a man with shortcomings, but it’s also the story of a man who needs to be adored.
Films from South India are dominating the Indian box office lately. Are you surprised by their growing clout in the Hindi film belt?
The writing’s been on the wall for a while, but not all South films are getting the same reception. RRR, Pushpa,Bahubali and the KGF films are the only ones to have done well theatrically in dubbed Hindi. What has not happened is the converse—Hindi films have not appealed to audiences in the South.Bollywood has been conditioned to think that the only way to succeed in the industry is with six-pack abs and knowing how to dance. The question to ask is: Where do you work hard—in the gym, on costumes, your diet and looks? The problem is that everybody thinks that’s the only way. We need to throw off the shackles of what it means to be a superstar in the industry.
Social media is full of praise for your son Vedaant’s accomplishments as a swimmer. How do you ensure he isn’t distracted by the attention?
Compared to the extent of his achievements, Vedaant has got a lot more fame and appreciation. Both of us realize that it’s because of me. The good news is that he’s smart enough to put up posts about guys his own age who are doing better than him. He knows exactly where he stands. He has a long way to go. I have to teach him the difference between fame and success. Just keeping it real, deep-rooted and middle-class has worked for us.