Why the Nambi Narayanan biopic is special to Sibi Malayil

Why the Nambi Narayanan biopic is special to Sibi Malayil

Keralites have been hearing the name of former ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, a lot, in the recent times. Nambi has finally emerged victorious after a long fight to clear his name in the infamous ISRO espionage case of the 1990s. Now, his life is being made into a Bollywood film. The news has a special significance for Malayalam filmmaker Sibi Malayil though he is not associated with the biopic. The veteran film maker reveals to Manorama, a secret he has kept hidden in his heart for the last 35 years.

A meeting in the skies

It was a hartal day in Kerala on 14 December 2018. Sibi had decided to take a flight from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi. Actor Mukesh too was in the same flight. As he was settling himself in the seat, Sibi noticed a person who had approached a seat in front of him. It was none other than Nambi Narayanan. Sibi got up, walked up to the ex–ISRO scientist and shook hands with him. Narayanan smiled happily as he had seen an old friend. Sibi returned to his seat promising that they would speak when the airplane lands in Kochi. Meanwhile, the filmmaker told actor Mukesh that Nambi was in the flight. However, Mukesh wondered why Sibi was saying it to him, but he chose not to ask. The flight sped up on the runway and took off. Siby’s mind, in the meantime, had gone a few years back, recalling the memories of a wonderful meeting.

A busy day at Tharangini

In the early 1980s. Siby, who wanted to be a filmmaker, was then working with noted directors like Faasil and Priyadarshan. He had assisted the ace filmmakers in 'Manjil Virinja Pookkal' (1980) and 'Poochakoru Mookuthi' (1984) respectively. As the filming of Priyadarshan’s 'Odaruthammava Aalariyam' (1984) was progressing at the Tharangini studio in Thiruvananthapuram, actor Sreenath dropped by to meet Siby. He told that someone would come to meet Sibi as they were interested to make a movie with him. Sibi was excited as it was an amazing opportunity for him to become an independent filmmaker. Sreenath had also told that the party had already produced the movie 'Piriyilla Naam' (1984) directed by Joshiy, in which the former had essayed a role.

The next day, a person came to meet the filmmaker at Tharangini. He told Siby, “I have heard a lot about you from my friends in the cinema industry. If you are looking to direct a movie independently, we are ready to produce it. My half-brother owns a banner.” Sibi didn’t have to think twice to say ‘yes’ to the wonderful offer. As the other person got up to leave, he introduced himself, “My name is Nambi Narayanan. I am a scientist at the ISRO here.” It was for the first time that Sibi was hearing that name, not knowing that he would hear it again, years later, in a rather depressing way.

Breakthrough film

Sibi was all set to direct his first movie as an independent filmmaker. He had zeroed in on an exciting script and had even decided Mohanlal, Rahman and Rohini as the lead actors. He had even met Mohanlal on the sets of Faasil’s 'Nokkethadoorathu Kannum Nattu' (1984) at Alappuzha, to finalise the dates of the shooting. However, as the shooting was about to begin, Mohanlal had to leave for an unavoidable American trip. Everything was in disarray and Sibi was scared that the producers too might back out if there isn’t a rising star like Mohanlal in the movie. As he was dejected about the whole thing, Nambi appeared again. This time he was accompanied by his half-brother G Subramanian too. They assured him that they had great confidence in his talents and expressed willingness to bankroll a movie even if there weren’t any stars in it. Their words had helped Sibi gain his confidence back.

Meanwhile, actor Jagadeesh, who came to know about this episode, told him a story. Both of them shared it with noted actor–screenwriter Sreenivasan who said that the story was interesting. Within a few days, Sibi began the filming of his debut movie as a director, with an amazing screenplay written by Sreenivasan. The movie, 'Mutharamkunnu PO', starred Mukesh as Dili Kumar, Sreenivasan as Devanand, Lizy as their love interest Amminikutty and veteran actor Neumudi Venu as the wily Kuttan Pillai. Noted wrestler Dhara Singh too had played a significant role in the movie.

'Mutharamkunnu PO', produced by G Subramanian for the banner of Rajeswari international, had a good run at the box office and had also introduced an exceptionally talented director to Malayalam cinema.

Dr Nambi Narayanan
Former Indian Space Research Organisation scientist Nambi Narayanan, who was framed in the notorious ISRO espionage scandal.

The sensational case

When Nambi got arrested on November 30, 1994, in the infamous ISRO espionage case, Sibi was in Chennai. It was the time when Siby’s movie 'Chenkol', a sequel of the superhit movie 'Kireedam', had just hit the screens. He was stunned to hear about Nambi’s arrest.He called late director Lohithadas to share his pain. In the meantime, the ex–scientist was mired in the infamous espionage case.

Inspiration for movie

Sibi couldn’t forget Nambi’s face and he kept thinking about the latter’s mental trauma, if he was indeed innocent. Years passed and then came the court verdicts which were favourable to Nambi Narayanan. Now, Sibi began to perceive a scope for a movie based on those incidents. It was also his way to express his gratitude to the man, who gave the filmmaker his biggest break. Sibi had even shared this idea with his dear friend Lohithadas, and imagined Mohanlal to essay Nambi’s character. However, such a movie required extensive research into the details of the case. Both of them, thus, gave up the idea of turning Nambi’s life into an exciting movie.

Back to present

Travails of an implicated Scientist: Review of  the autobiography of Nambi Narayanan

Sibi and Mukesh walked out of the Cochin International Airport along with Nambi. While recalling the old memories from the sets of 'Mutharamkunnu PO', Nambi said to Mukesh, “Do you remember it was I who dropped you back at your home in Kollam, on a few nights, while we were shooting?”

Nambi had donated Rs 50 lakh, which he got as compensation following the Supreme Court verdict, to the state government’s flood relief fund. The floods, however, had ruined some precious records of Sibi's memories when water gushed into his house at Kayantikkara, Ernakulam. Lots of photo albums and many awards including the state and national awards were destroyed. Those photo albums had many pictures taken from the sets of his first movie as a director and in many of them he was seen alongside Nambi and G Subramanian whom he fondly calls Maniyannan.

Madhavan as Nambi

A film called 'Rocketry: The Nambi Effect', based on the tumultuous life of Nambi Narayanan, is being made in Bollywood. Noted actor R Madhavan plays the role of the ex–scientist, while also making his debut as a director. The movie is co–directed by Anant Mahadevan, a Keralite, who is a popular actor and director in the Hindi and Marathi cinema. Prajesh Sen, who directed the superhit Malayalam movie 'Captain,' is associating with this movie. It was Prajesh who penned Nambi’s autobiography ‘Ormakalude Bramanapada’ (In the Orbit of Memories).

The teaser of the movie is already out and it is garnering mostly positive responses. “There are tales of many people in this world. You may have heard some of it. But some others won’t reach your ears,” Madhavan said about the movie. The movie will be released in many languages including Hindi, English, Tamil and Telugu. 

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