Swerving from the beaten track: Mysskin, the risk-taker of Tamil cinema

Most directors prefer to play safe when choosing themes for their films but not Mysskin.
Swerving from the beaten track: Mysskin, the risk-taker of Tamil cinema
Swerving from the beaten track: Mysskin, the risk-taker of Tamil cinema
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Most directors prefer to play safe when choosing themes for their films as any kind of adventurism in this regard could cost them dearly. A bagful of awards or critical acclaim might not fetch them their next assignment if the film fails to click at the box office and the producer’s returns fall short of his investment.

But there are a few directors who are made of sterner stuff. They prefer to chase their own rainbows and make the kind of films that provide them aesthetic satisfaction and which they feel will also touch a chord with audiences.

One filmmaker who makes the cut in this respect is the burly Mysskin ( Shanmugha Raja ) who has, right from the outset, swerved considerably from the beaten track. Right from the choice of subject to the delineation of the plot and the casting, Mysskin has always preferred to rely on his own intuition and his confidence in his ability to deliver. Most times his gamble has paid off and though he has helmed just eight films so far, most of them have retrieved their investment with a tidy profit and have also merited rave reviews.

Mysskin, who served his apprenticeship with director Vincent Selva for a while, got off the blocks with his small budget venture Chithiram Pesuthadi a romantic tale featuring two Mollywood stars Narain and Bhavana. The hero, a henchman of a ruthless don decides to turn over a new leaf after he meets the heroine, employed in an NGO. Just when the nuptials are round the corner, he is whisked away by the police. The heroine is devastated and her father dies of shock. How the lovers finally unite form the crux of the film.

The film returned to the cans in record time but after a number from it, ‘Vaalai Meenukkum’ sung by Gana Ulaganathan, turned chart topper, it was re-released in Chennai and elsewhere and did brisk business.

Mysskin’s fascination for gangster movies continued and his second film Anjaathe turned out to be an edge of the seat thriller. The theme of good versus evil with the former triumphing at the end was shot well and the technical brilliance was clearly visible. Narain, the hero of Mysskin’s debut film played the role of a tough cop and Prasanna and Panidarajan were cast as the antagonists. Audiences lapped up the fast paced venture. The film brought back memories of Hollywood gangster movies and one could clearly discern that Mysskin had drawn his inspiration from films like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. The film had a phenomenal run with the music score and the lyrics too contributed to its success.

With two hit films under his belt, Mysskin was ready with the script of his third film Nandalala,  but when he pitched the film to a few top actors in Kollywood, all that he got was a thumbs down. A disheartened Mysskin was clearly unwilling to abandon the project and decided that he would himself don the protagonist’s role. The theme of the film, which was borrowed from the Japanese movie Kikyiro narrated the story of a mentally challenged adult and an eight year old boy in search of their mothers.

The film which ought to have been Mysskin’s second before Anjaathe had its share of troubles and was almost shelved after producers backed out of the project. A dark tale of human suffering with hardly any formula ingredients, Nandalala, however won international acclaim when it was screened at the Norway Film Festival where it won the Critics and People’s Choice Awards. Mysskin’s understated performance in the main role, however, proved to be a handicap and it was largely propped up by Ilaiyaraaja’s score with Mysskin collaborating with the maestro for the first time.

While films like Yuddham Sei (2011) and Mugamoodi ( 2012) did little to enhance Mysskin’s reputation as an auteur, he came back strongly with Onaiyum Attukuttiyum which he wrote, directed and produced under his home banner Lone Wolf Productions. In a clear departure from norms, this film had no songs and no heroine either. The movie was a neo noir thriller with a story line that encompassed the events occurring in a single night in the dark lanes and alleys of Chennai.

Sri who made his mark with Vazhakku Enn 18/9 was cast in the role of a young medico who saves the life of a mortally wounded gangster and has to lock horns with the cops who are on the trail of the killer. Slickly shot, the film had its dose of dark humour and emotional content and with nary a single dull moment, received rave reviews as well. Ilaiyaraaja entrusted with the background score did not disappoint. The box office success of the film enabled Mysskin to prove his credentials as a serious filmmaker who could hold the attention of the audience with his brand of storytelling.

Mysskin’s last two directorial ventures were Pisasu produced by director Bala and Thupparivaalan which was made under actor Vishal’s banner ‘Vishal Film Factory’. Pisasu, which marked Mysskin’s first foray into the world of the supernatural, was released in 2014 and its USP was the taut screenplay by Mysskin and the action sequences deftly choreographed by a Hong Kong stuntman who had earlier worked with Mysskin in Mugamoodi. Newcomers Naga and Prayaga Martin enacted the main roles and Pisasu was clearly a shade above many of the ghost films that had been hitting the screens with monotonous regularity.

Thuipparivaalan was the outcome of Mysskin’s fascination for Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes and featured producer Vishal in the role of an intrepid detective Kaniyan Poonkundram with Prasanna as his Watson-like assistant. The detective on the trail of a missing dog stumbles on the sudden death of two people struck by lightning and senses that diabolical forces are at work. With the crafty villain one step ahead of the hero the story moves at a fast pace. The film had its lighter moments too and both Vishal and Prasanna carried off their roles well. The film however ended up as an average grosser.

Savarakathi where director Ram has played the hero is the latest venture from Mysskin’s production house and he has also penned the script for the film directed by his brother Aditya. Mysskin has for the first time in his career, donned the villain’s role and his performance has won him accolades. However Mysskin the director is clearly streets ahead of the actor who donned the greasepaint more out of compulsion than choice. As a singer too he is yet to make his mark. And while he will be game for acting assignments, another film with Vishal is on the cards.

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