Director Darbuka Siva speaks to TNM about his debut feature film ‘Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee’, and also shares insights from his journey as a musician and composer.

An image from the film Mudhal Nee Mudivum NeeScreengrab/ YouTube- Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee
Flix Kollywood Wednesday, February 09, 2022 - 14:49

The recently released Tamil coming-of-age film, Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee evokes a sense of nostalgia. Set in North Madras of the 90s, some scenes such as a group of friends visiting Spencer Plaza, youngsters listening to music in a cassette shop, and classroom antics have taken audiences back to their childhood. This is perhaps the reason why Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee is being widely discussed on social media since its premiere on Over-the-top (OTT) platform Zee5 on January 21.

Darbuka Siva makes his directorial debut with Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee. He started his career as an independent musician and shot to fame after composing the popular Tamil romantic track ‘Maruvaarthai’ for the movie Enai Noki Paayum Thota. In an interview with TNM, Darbuka Siva talks about the casting choices and screenplay of his debut feature film Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, and also shares insights about his journey as a musician.

Did you expect this kind of reception for your movie? Do you think it has appealed to audiences because of the nostalgia it evokes?

I don’t ardently follow everything that happens online but I am aware of the response the film has been garnering. I knew a certain crowd would appreciate the film but did not expect it to appeal to so many people. I am not sure if it is possible to generalise and say a particular kind of movie works because what kind of content works is a mystery.

But when it comes to Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, I guess people liked that it was a breath of fresh air and didn’t follow the visual grammar that so many other films do. For instance, it doesn’t have heroic opening scenes or dramatic romantic portions. I think people liked that it was organic.

The character arc of Vinoth is strikingly similar to your own life and career. How did you craft his character?

We had to make the characters relatable. Some parts were inspired by people I’ve met, and there were additional layers added in others. Vinoth and especially his career might be similar to mine, but all the characters have parts of me. Writers tend to craft characters that reflect their own lives in some way. But at the same time, a character like Catherine is very different from me. I had to imagine how a person with those character traits would act in a school in North Madras of the 90s.

Did you envision MNMN as an OTT film? Were you worried about its performance or success on OTT?

When I started the film I didn't think about whether it was going to end up in theatres or OTT. If I had started thinking about that, I might have focused more on customising the film to suit the medium and it would have lost its authenticity.

Producers, directors and platforms are trying to figure out what kind of content works well with audiences to decide what kind of projects they should sign. There is also research being done on this. But I am not interested in going by stats or analysis. I only work on projects that excite me or I am going to be proud of.

MNMN was risky too because it is a low-budget film filled with nostalgia. I knew that its success depended on factors like the time when it was released, how people received the film, and it was a matter of chance occurrence. As artistes, we have to take those risks at times.

What was the casting process like? Why did you choose not to narrate the entire script to the actors?

I preferred having debut actors on board because I felt that audiences would come with certain expectations or preconceived notions if it featured well-known actors. Also, not all actors would have been willing to spend time in workshops before the shoot or be willing to go onscreen without makeup.

As for the script, I wanted it to be as real as possible. In life, especially when someone is in school, they are not going to know what lies ahead of them or what they are going to be doing in the future. Similarly, while hearing the story, the actors only knew a little about their characters. They did not know how the reunion sequences were going to turn out while they were shooting for the school segment.

There are some emotional scenes in the film where the dialogues are muted and we hear music in the background. Being both a filmmaker and music composer, did you purposely craft those scenes like that?

The scene where Vinoth runs to Rekha’s house and pleads to take him back was premeditated. I did not want dialogues because everything that had to be said had already been said and audiences would have seen what the characters are going through at that point. I brought in music because it elevates the emotions in the scene. 

But generally, I am careful about not letting the musician in me take over. Only when the dialogues no longer fit the scene naturally, do I use music to convey the depth of emotions.

Director Darbuka Siva 

You were the music composer for the film Rocky, what was the experience like?

Rocky was almost a challenge because it was not within my comfort zone. When I first started working on it, It was far from the world I had envisioned but it was interesting to imagine the kind of songs that would inhabit Rocky. The director Arun Matheswaran had a very clear idea of the music he wanted and the relationship between the sounds and the images that were to be created.

You have said Mr X was more of a social experiment because people praise a not-so-great song if the composer is well-known. As someone who has largely worked as an independent musician, do you think the industry has opportunities for artistes who are not from film families?

People who are from film families or who are part of the fraternity get their first opportunity sooner than others, it is true. But ultimately, it is their work that speaks. Social media has also played a huge role because years ago the only way for musicians or actors to seek work was through live shows or auditions. People are now able to use Instagram reels to showcase their talent. I have seen how people have viewed someone’s Instagram profile and called them with opportunities.

Indie musicians have been talking about the lack of mainstream opportunities. Do you think the boundaries between film music and independent music are blurring now? Are there musicians you are looking forward to working with?

The setup and structure of the music industry is different in India compared to the west. While music is important here, it acts as a supplementary industry that revolves around films. We do have theatre and an independent music scene but it is niche. That is one of the reasons why it is also taking time for independent artistes to find opportunities.

In the indie space, things don’t happen when you don’t collaborate. We first chip in with insights and then see where it takes us, but the film industry does not work like that and the music needs to fit within the vision of the project.

As for me collaborating with indie artistes, I constantly try to bring them on board. Poet and singer Dima El Sayed, who is based in Lebanon, was part of MNMN. As soon as one enters films, they start working with the same set of people. I want to change that and push boundaries.

You have experimented with different styles of music like Bengali Baul, contemporary classical and Tamil folk. Are there specific genres that you are keen on exploring in the future?

Music has opened up my mind and sensibilities. When I was an independent musician, I travelled a lot and had the opportunity to meet people from varied cultural backgrounds. All the influences and inspirations subconsciously creep in when I make music. I would love to bring elements from South American and African musical styles to my compositions.