Just 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.

 
 

"We can't make movies on gay marriages or psychopaths"

What is the story behind the name Mysskin? Is it your real name?

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.

Whose team 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.

On the trend of directors turning to acting. Is it for a share of the fame?

I don’t 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.

 

From 90Kgs, I had to work out

regularly 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?

My 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 anything else.

Some directors make movies in 10 crores, while others use 60-70 crores.

It 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.

Something as special as the Gaana Ulaganathan’s superhit song, or the dance number by Snigdha, in Nandhalala?

I 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?

Only 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.

Ilaiyaraja was never

mesmerized by me.

 

It is said that Ilaiyaraja was mesmerized by your narration for Nandhalala…

First 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

I 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?

The 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 family.

What is your opinion on making movies based on novels?

I 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 movies fail?

There 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.

Who is your favorite cinematographer and writer?

The 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.

Do you 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 in mind.

Does an 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.

 

I have no script for Rajini

and Kamal

On few movies in the recent past dishing out too much glamour and vulgarity.

Cinema 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?

Definitely 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 of director.

Many feel that if a creator starts acting, the creator in him takes a beating. Do you agree?

First 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.

My next project is one

with Surya in the lead

 

Plot of Nandhalala. What inspired you to make Nandhalala?

Nandhalala 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 you?

I 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.

On commercial elements in songs and foreign locations popping out of nowhere…

Songs 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?

There 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 last movie.

Director Perarusu Ravi k Chandaran G.V.Prakash Director Sasi S. P. Jananathan Director Venkat Prabhu
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