What a comeback this is for Mysskin who has once again proved that he’s one of the most exciting, even if inconsistent, filmmakers of our times. The actor-director is in sparkling form as he returns with a career best in this dark, gritty, moody, philosophical metaphor-infested chase film that’s mostly brilliant.
Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum is a dark fable, the kind you shouldn’t probably tell children but trust Mysskin to give the kid a reality check, when he’s supposedly reuniting the family in a cemetery of all places. Not only is it a morbid tale about morals and redemption, it’s also a bleak, cynical look at a world run by a pack of wolves, one that’s cruel to the innocents.
The film begins with a top angle wide shot of a flyover. A man runs into frame, falls flat, gets up again and runs, leaving his gun… and a pool of blood behind on the road, we notice as he cuts closer. We are hooked instantly and Mysskin sucks us into the thick of action, with every moving frame composed to heighten the intrigue of the story he wants to tell us.
This is the auteur at his very best and it can now be debated if there’s another filmmaker around who is as radical as Mysskin in his shot-taking, framing and blocking of action, where dialogues are perfunctory and the drama in the action takes centre-stage.
While most filmmakers rehash the same old types in the name of character, here’s a director who gives even extras more character and depth than we see in protagonists of many mainstream films. This is something Mysskin started doing quite early on in his career; he had used it quite a bit in Anjathey and abused it in Nandalala but here, every character is written as a metaphor because this is a fable he has constructed with a cast of animal-like creatures.
A super surreal fable. So if he plays an assassin called Wolf, he feels the need to give himself a tail visually towards the end. Take a look at the villain’s sidekicks. They are all given traits of assorted animals as credited in the end-credits. Yes, it does feel like experimental theatre with elements of mime routed into cinema. Some of it works and some of it feels funny, but there’s no doubt that this is as creative as a filmmaker has got with characterisation in mainstream Tamil cinema. Thiagarajan Kumararaja did something similar in Aaranya Kaandam (by basing each character on an animal), only that he did it a lot more subtly and didn’t feel the need to spell it out in the end credits. Only the observant few got the references. Mysskin doesn’t want to take that chance. He wants the masses to know every detail of what he’s done.
He’s been guilty of overstating ever since he had an innocent man called Kuruvi die flapping his disfigured little arms, you know, like wings (because of his bird-like name and nature), with a bullet piercing through his T-shirt that has a dove illustrated on it, with the words Peace, in Anjathey. Though he has considerably toned down this desire to make his metaphors that literal and one could argue that this is now his signature, it would be great to see the filmmaker liberate himself from this need to tell people that he’s a thinking filmmaker and let us interpret it, mine it for meaning and go home with our own perspectives on it, rather than being spoon-fed on what to think.
Having cast himself and Sri in the titular roles (of the Wolf and the Kid respectively), Mysskin has extracted the very best out of every actor and extra in the film that most performances feel so real (except the characters that are intentionally surreal and stylised).
Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum compares well with world cinema (this feels like one of those many South Korean chase thrillers about killers seeking redemption) but with a little more restraint and understatement, Mysskin has every potential to breakout at the international festival circuit and make us proud someday.
To speak Mysskin’s language, the vulture that waits to attack the remains every Friday approves.
Cast: Mysskin, Sri, Shaji, Adithya
Storyline: A kid saves a dangerous dying fugitive and triggers off a chase between the hunter and the hunted and soon, the definitions blur
Bottomline: A mostly superb and almost riveting piece of cinema