Mysskin welcomes me with a warm smile into his expansive well-lit drawing room, where black and white photo frames spell art and aesthetics. It’s a busy day for the director with back-to-back interview slots. I wait patiently for my turn. An hour-and-a-half later, Mysskin shows up. “Sometimes, it’s embarrassing to talk about myself and my work,” he breaks into laughter. After a pause, he adds,”it is a living hell,” referring to promotions. But quickly, the filmmaker admits he likes ‘stimulating conversations’. “Most of the press people who interviewed me, admire the films I make, and these days, they do homework before they shoot questions. As long as they don’t ask, ‘why my films don’t have kuththu songs at all’, I think I shouldn’t complain,” he cheekily says.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Be it Nandalala, Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum, Pisasu or Thupparivaalan, most of your films have been ‘different’ and intense.
I identify myself with intense films. I keep breaking rules and I love to experiment. This applies to whatever I indulge in—writing, filmmaking, singing, acting or cooking. My understanding of cinema is different. Naturally, that reflects in my work. To me, filmmaking isn’t about money. I am extremely passionate about the art of storytelling and movie making. I give my 100 per cent. It is an extremely rewarding experience, an intense journey, and even cathartic in multiple ways. It is like childbirth.
I don’t watch many movies. I am away from the noise. I am not on social media. I don’t do something because it is a trend. I ask my assistants to visit theaters and watch films. I am an avid reader. I build ideas based on questions that come to my mind. Would you believe if I say I find answers through my films? Say, I get 4-5 ideas. I see which can be stretched for two hours into a film. It is more like a conversation between the conscious and the subconscious mind. I never realised the purpose of life until I was 20. I have done more than 50 jobs, and finally, I am into cinema. Each film takes about a year or so. I better be honest with my characters. I don’t separate myself from my films.
I am sure every film drains you emotionally.
That’s the thing about making movies. It demands experience. Only if I go through certain emotions, I will be able to write and get them translated onto the screen. I remember breaking into tears while writing a crucial scene in Pisasu. Usually, it takes about a week or ten days for me to come out of the zone. I am out of the Psycho mode now. (Laughs) I am a sucker for psychological films as I consume a lot of psychological books. It is interesting to get into someone’s mindspace, understand a character, travel with him or her. In Michael Haneke’s words: “Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth, or at the service of the attempt to find the truth.”
Why did you choose Udhayanidhi Stalin as the lead for Psycho?
I have never watched his films. Udhay is a sincere actor, and I believe this would be the best film in his career. He plays a visually-challenged person. It is not that I wrote this script having him in mind, but I felt he would suit my protagonist. A similar thing happened with Vishal. We barely knew each other. Nobody thought I would direct him in Thupparivaalan, which was a film with no songs. The underlying theme of Psycho is love and how it can transform the evilest being on earth. It is not about who I work with. I can collaborate with anyone and mould them the way I want. That’s how it should be. A good actor should be able to accommodate himself to any given role. I keep working with new people and my crew members change, too. My movies belong to me and I take the call.
Tell us more about Psycho.
The film is my version of the Buddhist tale of Angulimala. It’s an edge-of-the-seat psychological thriller.
You are opinionated. You speak your mind, which sometimes put you in a spot.
I don’t call myself a rebel, but I display a rebellious attitude when it comes to a lot of things. These things make Mysskin, Mysskin. As a five-year-old kid, I have chosen things that I want—be it shoes, watches or shirts. I never let my parents choose the stuff for me. Despite not being financially well-off, I was given the freedom to be myself, and they nurtured my individuality. People call me cranky. People call me Psycho. But I am not what they think I am. I am only what I believe I am. (Smiles) Again, I don’t do what people expect me to do.
Who is Mysskin, otherwise?
A feminist. See, I am a good father to my daughter. I am the best buddy to my friend. I am an understanding person to my beloved one. I am a sincere filmmaker to the audience. I am a funny guy to those who don’t know me. I am a Psycho to those who hate me. (Laughs).
Every time you collaborate with Ilaiyaraaja, we get some fantastic songs that are straight from the heart.
The process of working with Ilaiyaraaja is both magical and meditative. People fall at his feet, but I don’t. I kiss his feet. Do you get the difference? I derive so much happiness like a baby, who drinks the mother’s milk. It is overwhelming and sacred at the same time. That’s why I decided to go with these words for the album: “Isaithaayin thaalaattu.”
Why don’t we see your films at festivals?
I don’t believe in sending films to festivals. I don’t understand the bunch of people who ‘judge’ entries. Their say doesn’t matter. Also, it is ridiculous when someone categorises a film and announces ‘1-2-3 prizes’. I consider it quite demeaning. Filmmaking is beyond all that. See, as a student, I didn’t believe in the system. I didn’t believe in marks or grades. As a filmmaker, I take a similar stand. I don’t go by the norms. It’s not a competition, come on. I would rather want a common man to say, “Hey, I loved your film.”
Can we see you generate content for OTT platforms, someday?
The medium varies (cinema, Netflix or television), but all you do is tell stories. Thankfully, I have producers who support my films. My only concern is that my attitude towards filmmaking shouldn’t change. With OTT platforms, I fear I might become an episodic director. Take Game of Thrones, for instance. It is not a great piece of work. It’s okay-ish. I felt lots of scenes could have been told in a single shot, but it seemed like a chewing gum that could be stretched forever. I shouldn’t be bored at the end of the day. I value my work, my principles, and I don’t want to take my audience for granted. I am what I am today because of their money. Doing films for these streaming sites come with so many restrictions that filmmakers are aware of. And, nobody wants to talk about that. But I fear none. My writer-friends respect me because I know I am a good director. I will be into filmmaking as long as I can think and write.
What keeps you occupied when you don’t make films?
I think. I sing. I travel. I make it to a point that I read at least 50 pages every day. Also, I order a book daily. I have a huge collection of books and poetry. I have no shame in admitting that I have read only 18 per cent of them. It’s all right. I collect books. I read as much as I can. I earn money just to buy books. Nothing makes me happier.
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