two films old, and Mysskin has already established a
style of his own.
Chitiram Pesudhadi heralded the arrival of a genuinely
original Tamil filmmaker, and Anjathey confirmed Chitiram
was no fluke. Anjathey is the first contemporary Tamil
thriller that does not feel derived or copied from Hollywood.
It's a gritty, urban thriller that has deep roots in
a Chennai milieu. In an extended interview, Mysskin
shares with us the rich experience of his craft.
can't make movies on gay marriages or psychopaths"
What is the
story behind the name Mysskin? Is it your real
Mysskin is not
my actual name, it is Raja. But tinsel town
has a lot of Rajas and it is difficult to stand
out in this crowd. So, I wanted a new name and
when I thought about this, the first name that
came to mind was Mysskin. It is the name of
a character in Dostoyvesky’s Idiot, a
character I liked very much. More than anything
I liked the way the name sounded and so after
minor changes in the spelling I became Mysskin.
I now think it sounds a bit notorious.
were you part of before you took off independently?
I was working
at Landmark when Kathir sir first asked me to
join him. I was with him for nearly 8 months
but did not work on any movie. It was under
Vincent Selva that I did my first movie, Youth.
After that I did Jitthan again under Vincent
Selva. I have also worked in a Hindi movie.
So, it is Vincent Selva who I can call my mentor.
the trend of directors turning to acting.
Is it for a share of the fame?
know the exact reason. Why others turned
to acting is not clear to me, I only
know what made me take the plunge (Nandhalala).
I had a good story with me, which I
was not able to convert to a movie because
all the actors whom I approached were
reluctant to do such a subject, this
went on for nearly 2 and a half years.
But I could not afford to shelve this
story, so I decided to take it on myself.
It was not easy for me, because I was
pretty bulky, around 90Kgs. I had to
work out regularly and diet for around
two months to get it down to 70. I am
not sure about the fame factor, that
too may be involved. I have got my share
of fame as a director. But my movie
does not have scope for any heroic acts.
I appear as a very down to earth character,
not something that can get me fans associations
and things like that.
90Kgs, I had to work out
and diet for around
two months to get down to70.””
Your room is full of books. Are you an avid reader
and how did you become one?
schooling was in Tamil. I started to read books
to improve my English. But, after entering the
world of books, I realized the depth it had. Now
I can’t think of a world without books,
something as important as the very air I breathe.
I have learnt and transformed a lot through reading
books. Basically being a writer, I have to read
books. But I believe that volume is not the primary
factor, it is the understanding that is important.
But I keep buying and reading many books. Books
help me understand the lives of people in different
parts of the world, something like Dostoyvesky’s
‘Idiot’ or ‘Crime and Punishment’
taught me a lot about people of Russia. The knowledge
that one can gain is enriching. I feel very happy
while being immersed in a book than while doing
directors make movies in 10 crores, while others
use 60-70 crores.
is difficult to generalize things here. It depends
a lot on the director and the producer. There
was a time when the producers used to provide
just one camera (not clear) to shoot a song, but
that’s not the case nowadays. Producers
are willing to spend money on their movies. The
important thing here is to make a good movie.
One can spend what one considers necessary to
bring out the product. A third person’s
opinion does not count here. The budget can be
high or low as the director desires. Even in my
case, my first movie was shot on a low budget,
the second one went a bit higher and I am not
sparing any expenditure on my third movie. Every
one has their own style of working, for instance
there are people whose movies get ready only at
the editing table while others go with a storyboard.
So, it depends on people, the main idea being
to make a good movie.
as special as the Gaana Ulaganathan’s superhit
song, or the dance number by Snigdha, in Nandhalala?
really don’t wish to talk much about my
movie before it releases, it is the audience that
has to see the movie and decide. Even in my two
movies I really had no idea that the songs would
go on to become such huge hits. I just went ahead
thinking that Gaana Ulaganathan and Snigdha were
part of good songs, but the way the audience received
the songs made them superhits. Even in Nandhalala
I am sure that many elements will get noticed,
even the small characters.
Who is a good director, one who gives commercial
successes or one who makes good cinema?
good movies can be commercial successes. If a
person watches a movie and likes it, he spreads
the word, brings in his friends and more people
watch the movie. So, it is only movies that are
liked by audience which go on to achieve commercial
success. Every commercial success is definitely
a good movie.
mesmerized by me.
said that Ilaiyaraja was mesmerized
by your narration for Nandhalala…
let me get it clear that Ilaiyaraja
was never mesmerized by me. He has been
in cinema for 35 years and must have
seen scores of people like me, but he
seemed to like me. I respect him a lot,
see him as a father figure. His songs,
especially from Annakili were part of
my life. So, actually it was I who was
mesmerized by being able to work with
him. Even now I am under the spell.
A great example for that is the amount
of details he asked me before composing
a song. I told him about the situation
of five people, two persons, two children
and one woman. The song is about how
the four others are beginning to worship
the woman, After hearing this he did
not immediately go to work. He started
asking me questions. What’s the
woman wearing? What’s the color
of the saree? Is she wearing earrings
and anklets? What is the backdrop that
you will provide, hills, lakes, the
clear sky? Are the two children dancing?
After asking for all these details he
conceived the song. I don’t think
there would have been any composer who
asked for so many details. Also, his
way of working left me spellbound. Even
after 35 years in the industry he does
not show any signs of being tired, he
still works round the clock. I was the
one mesmerized. I consider it an honor
to have worked with him and to have
his songs in my movie. He is a genius
and I will always be humble before him.
This is my relationship with Ilaiyaraja.
About the growth of Tamil cinema
won’t talk in terms of growth of Tamil cinema.
It is the growth of world cinema. Growth is constant
in cinema. Cinema is 110 years old, it has grown
in all aspects. Technically, visually, in narration
and all areas. Growth will always be there, in
different ways. It is a matter of perception.
As for Pooja’s character, we wanted to make
her a strong and independent girl, and not this
whiny, pretty damsel always waiting for her knight
in shining armor. Even when her dad shouts at
her and asks her about the boy, she remains silent
and stubborn in maintaining her dignity. We intend
on making all our female leads as tough kittens
and not this cute, chirpy thing whose main asset
is her dumbness.
Naren of Chiththiram Pesudhadi and Naren of Anjaathe,
whom do you like more?
Chithiram Pesudhadi Naren, because at that time
he was not a star. After each day’s shoot
we used to sit here in this room and discuss lots
of matters. I used to read aloud to him, he used
to do the same for me and we used to bond. But
during Anjaathe he had already become a star and
did not have much time. But whenever he gets time
we do discuss lots of matters, books that interested
us and things like that. He is a very good friend,
in fact he is like a brother. Even though he is
from Kerala, it never came between us. He always
seeks my advice whenever he is in doubt and I
too call him up when I have problems. I should
say that I am very fortunate to have got a friend
like him, he is very understanding. In future,
if anything happens to me I believe that he will
be the one who grieves the most, more than my
is your opinion on making movies based on novels?
don’t know whether all novels can be made
into movies. Some can be made into movies, if
it is given in a script form. Basically, novels
and movies are very different mediums. A novel
is a narrative medium, it is difficult to bring
novels and movies together. A script has to be
short and crisp, around 120 pages. It must not
contain much dialogues, it must be more of action.
Novels take shape in a person’s mind unlike
movies that come alive on a screen. A novel has
to be modified, made into a script and then shot.
There are many novels that have been made into
movies, but for now I am not for making movies
from novels. There are many novels that I have
read and would like to make movies out of, like
‘After Love’ and ‘Love in the
time of cholera’ and many others. Recently,
‘Love in the time of cholera’ was
adapted in a Hollywood movie. It was a failure
and I believe it was because of the essence being
lost while shaping it into a movie. So, I am not
keen at the moment to make a script out of a novel.
But there are novels that I would like to adapt
and I may do them in future.
Why do Tamil movies that are modeled on Hollywood
is no need to model films on Hollywood. There
are Iranian and Korean movies that can make Hollywood
look quite ordinary. We can continue to make our
kind of movies. I don’t think anyone in
the world can make a movie like Pather Panchali.
They can model their movies on our kinds if they
wish to. The social and political set ups are
totally different. A subject based on dowry can
be made only in India. At the same time we can’t
make movies on divorce, gay marriages or psychopaths
here. Even science fiction is not common here.
So, we are parts of different cultures, different
ideas. We have to tell our kind of stories in
a good manner with reality. I think the process
has already started.
is your favorite cinematographer and writer?
only cameraman I like is Mahesh Muthusami, he
is the only cameraman whom I have worked with.
He is like my eye. A very humble person, I am
very lucky to work with him. He can read my mind
and knows exactly what I want, that is the level
of understanding between us. He has done some
splendid work in Nandhalala. He is very low key
and always likes to keep away from the media,
always plays down his contribution. I am sure
that he will reach great heights. Among story
writers, I like Mahendran and Sridhar and in Hollywood
I like David Mamet, Frank Pierson and many others.
plan to direct Rajni or Kamal?
I have no
such plans at present. I still have to
go a long way and many things to do. In
fact, I have enough material to work on
for nearly 7 years and there is neither
of them in any of these stories. After
completing these, I may think about making
a movie with them. But that too depends
on the script. Only after the script is
ready will I decide upon the hero who
suits the character the best. I am not
used to writing scripts keeping a star
actor need to have market value?
It is necessary
for the business, not for the audience.
Cinema is a business where crores are
handled. So, people investing need someone
or something in which they can place their
faith. That is the basis on which a movie
is sold to distributors.
have no script for Rajini
few movies in the recent past dishing out too
much glamour and vulgarity.
as a medium is one where everything appears magnified,
even less appears to be more. You don’t
have to show a rape to convey a girl being harassed.
Similarly, there are situations where the director
cannot avoid picturizing scenes sensuously. But
I believe that this should be demanded by the
script. My movies have so far not demanded any
such scene. The songs in my movies are purely
commercial additions. But even then, it is not
vulgar. It is not only the young generation that
enjoys ‘Vaala menu’ and ‘Kathazha
kannale’. I want the entire range of audience
from children to old people to enjoy my songs
and movies. I feel very happy when I am told that
even small children enjoy songs of my movies.
That’s the way things should be. Making
films only for a particular section of the audience
is not a good film maker’s trait, I believe.
That is what I think of when I decide upon every
aspect of my movie, songs, music, dance moves
or anything. That’s why I think songs in
my movies have become super hits.
Which Indian movie do you like the most?
Pather Panchali, I like the movie very much. One
of the best movies made in India. In fact I have
said many times before that there is only one
movie that has been made in India and that is
Pather Panchali. A class movie adapted from a
class piece of literature and the man behind it,
Satyajith Ray is a great artiste. Every time I
watch the film, I feel humbled. It’s a great
work of art.
Do you plan to continue acting as hero after Nandhalala?
No. My next project is one with Surya in the lead
and I am involved only as a director. However
I am not saying that I will never act again. If
I hit upon a story which I feel suits me well,
then I may act again. But acting in another director’s
film may not happen. But again, I have not set
anything in stone, acting may or may not happen
again. But for the time being, my next project
will have Surya in the lead and me in sole capacity
Many feel that if a creator starts acting, the
creator in him takes a beating. Do you agree?
of all, I am no creator. There is only one creator,
the Almighty. I am just a director, a film maker.
Before Nandhalala people did tell me that I will
find it difficult to direct while I act. But I
didn’t feel so, in fact it was a lot of
fun. One reason I feel is that I did not have
any plans of becoming a star and have fans associations
in my name. I have done the movie in a very relaxed
manner. When I was only the director I used to
shout a lot to get things right, now I don’t
do that, mainly because I don’t have enough
energy to shout after acting and exercising to
keep in shape. There have not been many retakes.
I have just gone with the flow of things and believed
in the opinions of my assistant directors. The
results will be seen on screen, it will look very
simple and straightforward to the audience.
next project is one
with Surya in the lead
Nandhalala. What inspired you to make
is a story of two children, I play one
of them, a character whose brain has
not matured beyond the toddler stage.
They go in search of their mother not
knowing where she is or what happened
to her. The story is about the incidents
that happen and the people that they
meet. The inspiration for the movie
came from many incidents in my life
and another movie. I have completed
around 35% of the shooting including
the climax. The climax was among the
first things that I shot. Only 20% of
the talkie portion has been shot, around
65% remains. What has been completed
so far has come out in a very simple
manner and I am very happy about that.
There are diverse cultures in India, many languages
and many ways of life. Which of these have influenced
am a person who mixes with many people wherever
I go. I always want to know more about the lives
of people. Recently I had the opportunity to spend
a lot of time with gypsies (kuravarkal). I was
really touched by their lives, I learnt about
their troubles and sufferings. There has always
been a tendency to use them as laughing stocks
and think of them as relatively uncivilized. But
now I realize how wrong the perception is. They
have a depth of thinking and broad mindedness
that can put us to shame. I have shown their lives
as a small part of my movie and I feel very satisfied
about it. I have even used one of their traditional
songs in the movie. When one of them sang the
song I had asked him about its origin and he simply
told that it was his grandmother who had taught
him the song. It must have at least a couple of
hundred years of history behind it and I feel
great to have that song in my movie. More than
having them in my movie, it is their lives that
touched me, they taught me a lot about life. I
feel sad that the innocence and straightforwardness
that they have has become obsolete in today’s
world. If I am born again I would definitely like
to be a gypsy.
commercial elements in songs and foreign locations
popping out of nowhere…
are commercial gimmicks. There is nothing we can
do about it. Having said that I don’t feel
that songs are bad things to have in movies and
I feel the same about foreign locations. A song
in itself is nothing short of a fantasy, imagination
at its peak, so I don’t think it makes much
of a difference if you shoot in Switzerland or
Madurai. Shooting in scenic locations does add
to the beauty on screen and I am not against it.
During my first movie I never had the chance to
go abroad, I could afford only Ooty. Moreover
I think that having foreign locations in songs
gives people in remote areas a chance to see places
that they would never see otherwise.
Which heroine do you like the most? Who among
the contemporary actresses are doing well?
are many actresses. I liked Savithri amma a lot,
then there was a comedienne called Saroja and
then I liked Saroja Devi. Regarding my movies,
I have done just two and have to do a lot more
before I can talk. But Bhavana’s performance
in Chiththiram Pesudhadi left me spellbound, she
is very spontaneous, I have not seen another actress
like her. Even Vijayalakshmi did very well in
Anjaathey. Then there have been many amateur actors
who have done small roles in my films and left
me surprised with their skills.
You had once told about making a movie on Buddha.
What happened to the idea?
I keep reading a lot of Buddhist literature, I
find it very interesting. I even like to think
of myself as a Buddhist. Recently, I read around
10 volumes of comics written on Buddha’s
life by a Japanese author Osamu Tezuka. Similarly
I keep reading a lot about Buddha. I consider
him to be one of the greatest human beings to
have ever walked the earth. I deeply desire to
make a movie about him and how to make it in a
way that it reaches out to everyone. I don’t
know whether I have enough knowledge to make a
movie on Buddha. Bernardo Bertolucci has made
a movie called Little Buddha. He took great pains
to make that movie and he had matured a lot before
he made it. I am not sure whether I have matured
enough. But I do have the desire to make a movie
on Buddha and if that happens it may well be my