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'Didn't Want to Direct 'Rocketry' After Ananth Mahadevan Opted Out': R Madhavan

R Madhavan speaks about how Suriya & Shah Rukh Khan didn't charge a penny for their roles in Rocketry.

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'Didn't Want to Direct 'Rocketry' After Ananth Mahadevan Opted Out': R Madhavan
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R Madhavan's directorial debut, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, is all set to hit theatres on 1 July. It is based on the life of Nambi Narayanan, a former ISRO scientist and aerospace engineer. Madhavan also plays the protagonist in Rocketry. The film premiered at the 75th Cannes Film Festival and was well received by the audience.

The Quint caught up with R Madhavan to talk about the film and more:

Before talking about 'Rocketry', let's talk about the actor R Madhavan and his journey. Do you find it difficult to come out of a character after you are done shooting?

Madhavan: When I hear a script, I don't force myself. I have the liberty to choose scripts now since I have had my success early on and I’m not chasing after money. If I relate to the character and if the objective is to tell a great story, I’m in. It doesn't matter whether it is a hero, villain or a cameo. For instance, if I'm playing a negative role in Breathe, then I look at it as a father's affection for his child. Another example is Decoupled. My character is sarcastic, and I can relate to it. So it is not difficult for me to jump in and out of a character.

Having spent more than two decades in the film industry, what is the most important lesson you have learnt?

Madhavan: You cannot take any story or performance for granted. After every project, you need to unlearn and start from scratch. That’s the only difference between you and a newcomer. As an experienced actor, you have to become a newcomer and not take the successes seriously. For you to be relevant and stay on top of the game, you have to put up a great fight.

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You didn't have a major theatrical release since Vikram Vedha in 2017. You had said in an interview that you didn't make money in the last four years. Were you saying no because the projects coming your way weren't interesting enough?

Madhavan: No, It was because of Rocketry. I have been working on the film for the past four-and-a-half years. Whatever OTT projects I did in between was to fund my film. Once Rocketry came into the purview, it became very difficult to relate to any other subject. This film was very consuming for me.

When director Anant Mahadevan quit the project a few days into filming and you had to take over as the director, what was that period like? Were you battling with the dilemma as to whether you want to go ahead with the project?

Madhavan: Yes, I didn't want to direct it. The film was thrust upon me at the last minute. It was either to drop the project or jump in to direct it. I didn't want to drop the project as there was hardly one month left to shoot. Only later I realised that I have not directed a film before and considering the scale of Rocketry, it seemed like a herculean task on the first day of shoot. When someone tells me that a person is writing, directing, producing and acting in a particular film, I just laugh because every department comes with its own set of expertise. But then one of my friends gave me the best advice. He said, ‘Don't look at it as an entire picture. Think of it as just one shot at a time’. Seeing everyone repose their trust in me was a humbling experience.

R Madhavan in a still from Rocketry: The Nambi Effect. 

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Since you are directing the movie as well, do you feel it gave you the chance to exercise more creative liberties?

This film is completely factual and all that you will see in it is true. So, there is no liberty taken in terms of the narrative. Most people add masala to make it palatable for viewers, but if I had to do that, I would have had to remove facts. So, there was no question of adding extra masala because Nambi is already a rockstar.

Having worked with stalwarts such as Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan, how did that help you as a director?

Madhavan: As a director, there is art and craft. I learnt the craft from these two for sure, but the storytelling method for Rocketry is unlike any of the films that they have done. I couldn’t rely on anybody else for this storytelling. It was completely my own.

R Madhavan made his Tamil film debut with Mani Ratnam's Alaipayuthey.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

When you announced the project in 2017, there was a lot of controversy surrounding Nambi Narayanan. How did you go about narrating the story of a person leading such a complicated life?

Madhavan: I don't think Nambi Narayanan is a man of controversy. He has so many achievements that needed to be spoken about. That is the reason I wanted to make this film; so that people don't ignore the likes of Nambi and other patriots like him who are not overt and jingoistic, who go for work knowing that they may not come back or may not be recognised. It was overwhelming to tell this story.

Madhavan with Nambi Narayanan 

Photo courtesy: Twitter

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Since 'Rocketry' is a film that relies heavily on science, what have you done to ensure that the story is speaking a language people understand? When I say language, I mean telling a story without peppering it with scientific jargon.

Madhavan: I have kept it as technically proficient and accurate as possible. I did not want to dumb down my film to explain it to the public. I can assure you that viewers will understand what Nambi Narayanan did. When you see the scientific achievements, you will not see what he did, but you will understand who did it and how he did it. That’s more important. People in India watch Interstellar, Sacred Games, Gravity, Inception. They are very smart. Whether this film works or not, I will never dumb it down. When the US makes a film titled First Man, Apollo 13, Steve Jobs, everyone sees that America has these geniuses. We too have geniuses like Nambi Narayanan and Vikram Sarabhai. Why not make films about these heroes?

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Suriya in a cameo role in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Suriya has a cameo in 'Rocketry'. You recently lent your voice for Soorarai Pottru and have also been part of the promotional campaigns for his educational foundation 'Agaram'. You both have also starred together in a few movies. Tell us about this bromance that you share with Suriya.

Madhavan: I have a lot in common with Suriya. We both are ‘family people’, we adore our parents, I have known him from his Nerukku Ner days. That commonality helps us have great conversations, and our wives are best friends too.

I am truly grateful that Suriya accepted the role without charging a penny, not even for his costumes or his flight tickets. Same goes for Shah Rukh Khan. If you ask me if there are good people in the industry, I think of the two of them.

Shah Rukh Khan in a cameo in Rocketry.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Since Rocketry's release is just a few weeks away, are you feeling the pressure of how it's going to perform?

Madhavan: Very much. I’m pretending to be all confident but I'm worried. There are so many outcomes that are possible, but one hopes for the best. I have no misconceptions about who I am. I'm not a superstar, I don't expect Rs 30-40 crore openings; I'll be happy if I get a Rs 5 crore opening.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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