With 'Nandalala' and 'Yuddham Sei' all set for release, director Mysskin talks to Subha J. Rao about his Zen-influenced approach to filmmaking.
Director Mysskin's bibliophile leanings are by now legendary. After all, inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 'The Idiot', and its lead character Prince Myshkin, the director (formerly called Raja) rechristened himself! His office lives up to his image — a sanitised space, books of every genre line the shelves and are stacked on the table. And, you instinctively know they're not there for effect.
Right on top are books on Zen Buddhism and haiku, and some on the craft called cinema. "Being with books surpasses every other relationship you share. I know I'm depressed when I can't read," he states. As for his namesake, he says: "Ah, Prince Myshkin, so full of tenderness and concern." There's a faraway look in his eyes as he recalls the tomes that have inspired him.
He even took up a job in Landmark to hone his knowledge of cinema, reading up on the masters. The stint there, and the 71 other jobs he held before movies embraced him have resulted in his kind of cinema — replete with relationship tangles and where the line between the good and bad blurs. Films with no heroes, but characters that take on heroic shades. The years of struggle have sharpened his sensitivity to pain, to human travails, to seek out that kernel of reality in a world fast turning commercial.
Unravelling the layers
Though his first two films were set in an action background (Chithiram Pesudhadi, gangster politics and a tender love story, and Anjaathey, friends turned foes, and a police-criminal cat-mouse game), there were no heroic fights, no mandatory introductory shots. Instead, there was a Zen-like calm. You knew something dreadful was about to unfold. At the same time, hope hung around the fringes. Best of all, all this unravelled itself, onion-like, to the viewer long after he left the theatre. "The viewer is God. He pays to watch my creations. I am duty-bound to leave him with something to ponder about. Art is very close to silence. I allow him to fill the silences with his interpretation. He transforms the movie."
The talk veers towards his labour of love, Nandalala, which has been lying in the cans for long. It has been finally scheduled for a November 26 release. It's hard for Mysskin to camouflage the pride he feels for this creation. "In 20 years, a director can possibly make a couple of 'good' movies. Nandalala takes that place in my career. It will touch hearts. That's why it needed an Ilaiyaraaja to weave in sadness and hope to a story of two boys, one of whom is 20-plus yet a child at heart, in search of their mothers," says Mysskin.
There's another reason why Nandalala is so special. "Certain instances in the film are drawn from my life. I have a brother who is a special child, and I know what he went through. It was like an open wound. After I made the movie, it healed," he smiles. The film took a lot out of him. Mysskin decided to play the lead himself after top actors got wary of playing it. He dropped many sizes and lived every moment of the movie, an experience that left him drained. Is he game for more acting assignments? "No. With direction, I am in bliss, in ecstasy," he states.
On the one hand, there's the lyrical Nandalala, and on the other, the action flick Yuddham Sei, starring Cheran, also due for release shortly. The film is about how an innocent person becomes a victim of circumstances. How was it directing a fellow director? "To Cheran's credit, he never interfered. He even attended the workshop we conducted prior to shooting. And, he's part of one of the finest action scenes I've shot," he says.
The director was supposed to make a movie with Kamal Haasan — The Tooth of Buddha — but it did not work out. It took Mysskin six long months to snap out of that. Now, he's moved on to other things, most notably a Hindi venture starring John Abraham. There are other ideas germinating in his mind — about the personal security guards of the Prime Minister, one on women warriors, a ghost flick?
And, what's his fixation with the "yellow sari item number"? He laughs: "Totally unintentional. I chose the colour for 'Vaala Meenukkum' because it was cheerful and luminous. Anjaathey followed. And, Now, Neetu Chandra's the yellow-sari girl in Yuddham Sei."
Some more talk about films later, ask Mysskin what he wants from life, and he says: "I want to die either in the time gap between when I say 'action' and 'cut', or while browsing the shelves at Landmark. Because, they helped me find myself."