Walk into director Mysskin’s office and you will be surrounded by books. The range of titles is diverse — from Dostoyevsky, Che Guvara, Robert Frost to Tamil classics Kalithogai and Puranaanooru including an interesting title that caught my eye, “You are only as good as your next one”. With Thupparivalan slated for release on September 15, the outspoken director talks to indianexpress.com in detail about filmmaking, philosophy and of course his ‘decent’ movies.
Reports suggest that Thupparivalan is inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
More than an inspiration, what Conan Doyle had created has become an archetype for detective characters — eccentric, intelligent, the way Holmes sees things laterally. Even if the investigation is done by a cop, there will be a connection somewhere to Sherlock Holmes. In fact, the 56 short stories and the four novels of Doyle were my first tryst with literature; I call them literature. I have dedicated this movie to Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Jeremy Brett who had portrayed the character beautifully. I would say that was my first threshold for film acting — I adore him. Knowing all this, there is bound to be an impact from the Sherlockian legacy. At those times, we have to move away and write.
In Tamil, we have a very strong affinity to detective fiction. In my childhood, I started with Thuppariyum Sambu, Spdyer comics, Irumbukai Mayavi and later, Tamizhvanan’s Sankarlal — these are also very important archetypes that helped me understand this genre. I wanted to write something exclusive in this space and that is Thupparivalan. I wanted this character to be played by a tall actor and that’s Vishal. Since a detective is generally aloof, is on a pedestal different from ours and doesn’t explain everything, a sidekick who is closer to the audience’s realm becomes necessary. Here is where the Watson’s archetype, Manoharan played by Prasanna comes in. The rest fell into place and the movie has come out decently.
Why do you say it has come out decently?
I find it juvenile to say that it has come out great. In filmmaking, we cannot aim to make the greatest movie. We should aim for a decent movie with a good plot, some inquiry and some philosophy. Thupparivalan has all of this. It is a good story — normal, simple, cute and interesting. I never aspire to make great movies. My stories are simple. The audience should enjoy those two hours and move on. But later, facets of the movie should come back to them when they are living their lives and urge them to question. That’s how I want my movies to be.
How much do you intervene in terms of cinematography, music etc?
I am willing to go to any extent to keep my vision intact. I will intervene, poke my nose and dominate my technicians. That’s the reason most of the technicians don’t like to work with me for more than three movies and I understand that. But my movie is mine. That’s also the reason why I don’t go for bigger technicians.
For example, with cinematography, I tell them what lens I want; I tell them what composition I need. I don’t buy the cameraman’s composition or lens. I believe that lensing is my domain. From my first movie, I have been telling my lens to my cinematographer. The day I tell my cinematographer ‘two people are talking, you place the camera and shoot’, I will commit suicide. It is because I have learnt my craft this way. When I was an assistant director, I used to chronicle what lens was being used, why it was being used and what’s the previous lens that was used and the next one he will choose. I have been reading composition all my life. Even when you sit now, that’s composition. When my assistant places a chair for a friend, that’s composition too. Everything counts.
I visualise everything in my mind. When I write a script, my characters just don’t pop up and talk. They don’t just walk into a room — How they open and close the door, how they sit after walking in, every small detail matters. I am very meticulous about it. That’s why I love my job, For me, nothing other than cinema matters. So, you can say I am dictatorial. I have to be and I am one, but one full of compassion.
Thupparivalan is a deviation from your usual style of working with lesser known actors. How does your casting process work?
Generally, casting happens after I finish my script and approach producers. However, Vishal and I had been talking for years about doing a movie. This time we decided that we will do a movie together and that we will start immediately. At that time, I pitched him some ideas and he liked this detective idea. While I had the idea in my mind, I had started writing on the full script after this interaction. In fact I have not seen any of Vishal’s movies. I don’t see many movies actually, maximum 3-4 movies per year. I had written based on what I know of Vishal from personal interaction and his appearance — I needed a broad shouldered man for Kaniyan Poongundran. But now, it looks tailor made for Vishal.
Did your experience with Mugamoodi help with Thupparivalan, considering this is the second ‘star movie’ that you are making?
I wouldn’t say Mugamoodi creatively helped with Thupparivalan. In that aspect, each movie is completely different. But what Mugamoodi did teach me was how to accept failure. It was a good experience for me to understand life. We always crave for victory, but failure is always there on the other side. Even if this movie becomes a hit, I can celebrate for maximum three days. Then, I have to move on to a new movie where this experience will not help me. Right from the structure of the script to shot composition everything is new. Once my editing is done, my connection with a movie ends — I feel bored to see my own movies.
You prefer to make movies in Tamil but say you don’t watch many Tamil movies. Isn’t that a bit contradictory?
I don’t find this contradictory at all. People always believe that to learn an art, you should pursue the same art only. For example, if you want to make a movie you have to watch a lot of movies. However it isn’t like that. There are a lot of allied arts — literature, painting, music, photography, dance etc. Each art has an inner rhythm — Van Gogh’s paintings, Phillip Glass’ music, Nadar’s photos all have a rhythm. These things an artist can learn from another art. I try to find the inner rhythm of an art indirectly through another.
I watched The New World by Terrence Malik yesterday. While it’s a great movie, it is Terrence Malik’s completed vision. I can’t learn a single thing from him. If I am inspired by a shot or how he has made his actors act, it becomes a repetition. Thus, I can only appreciate, be awestruck and kneel down in front of great art but can’t learn anything. You can only learn rhythms which are latent — this is not only my conviction but also what I have been doing.
However, it is not that I don’t respect the filmmakers here. They are my family and great filmmakers too. But I want to watch the greatest of cinema and art — understand the rhythm of Bresson, Pachelbel’s Kanon in D major. Moreover, watching a movie is a very tiring process for me. I have a ritual for watching a movie. I wake up at 4, take a shower and start watching a film. When I watch it, I don’t do it for mere entertainment. It takes three days with me writing about shots and other nuances. Thus, I am very choosy. I need some 100 people to recommend a movie.
You are a big fan of Charlie Chaplin. But humour is always dark in your movies?
If you flip Charlie Chaplin, there is a darker side to it. For example, take this scene in Circus where he gets locked inside a cage with a lion. He is so happy to see a girl, thinking she’ll open the latch. But she faints, and before she does she screams, waking up the lion. It is actually a dark scene, it is a dark part of life. Take away Charlie Chaplin and you’ll realise it’s the saddest scene. That’s the brilliance of Charlie Chaplin. He states the darkest part of life with a layer of cream, I just take that off. It is also why he ends movies walking alone, away from us. It is dark — nobody has understood him, asked him about his torn clothes or even if he has had food. Charlie Chaplin, for me, was one of the most tragical characters ever.
My movies always are high on irony. For me, emotions on screen and off screen are not different. I want to do hyperreal movies.
You have said you search music right at the ideation stage and listen to them for months as you expand your idea into a script. What did you listen to for Thupparivalan?
My favourite OST is Predator scored by Alan Silvestri. The climax happens in the jungle, a war between the predator and the prey. The evil believes that it will be secure but one prey fights a war with the belief that he is upholding goodness. I needed music for running, chasing and bouncing back and I got reminded of the Predator soundtrack. The movie is inspired by Predator’s music.
I have a story but I am not sure if I will do it. Post production will be completed in 2-3 days. After that I am planning to read some 100 books, listen to at least 25 classical albums and watch some good movies. That’s my next big project for now.
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