— Mysskin’s cinema is physical. The fight scenes in his films occupy the extreme ends of a spectrum. They are either divided into the simplest of images – where the cause and effect of an action occupy different shots and we rarely see two bodies in interaction – or are presented in their entirely, prioritizing spatial continuity over fragmentation and highlighting corporeality of an action over its meaning. The frames are chopped; characters’ heads cut off. In his world of action, hands and feet are all that matter. (Severing body parts is not an unusual act in this universe). People don’t have time for patient phone calls. They keep running, falling and scuffling. So does the camera, which crouches when they crouch, which lurches when they lurch, which sits back when they sit and which trembles from afar when they do. Mysskin is impatient with two shots and his restless, gently swaying camera converts these expository moments into a survey of the set, a documentation of an ensemble performance.

— These films are tightly plotted, very convoluted affairs; their solution always at an arm’s length. Instead of the clutter clearing up, it keeps growing knottier and knottier until cutting through is the only way out. These resolutions, themselves, come across as cathartic experiences. Characters barely know the trajectories of others and how they interfere with their own. Like mice in a maze, they keep holding on to their version of truth until they get the view from above. It is this partial concealment/ignorance of information through which the movies attain tragic proportions. Mysskin’s men make grave choices and often the wrong one. They try to vindicate themselves, only to hurt themselves over and over and descend deeper into guilt that is predicated on an equivalence that recognizes one’s own condition in another. They suffer, and come out as better men. Their redemption is possible because they suffer. Mysskin’s pictures, likewise, are at their best when under generic constraints. Mysskin is at his most liberated when tethered.

— The men and women in these films find themselves in similar situations time and time again.  Despite all their actions and choices, they seem to come back to where they started from. It is of little surprise that much of the acting in these movies consists of repeated gestures and words. Be it pacing up and down a hall, where we see them oscillating about like a human pendulum, or fighting a gang of armed men, each of whom comes forward individually – like ascending notes in a motif – for a showdown, invoking comparison to both the martial arts and dance choreography. Likewise, we see them getting stuck in language loops – repeated words and phrases – until they attain a rhythm that reveals more than the words themselves do. This inclination for repetition informs Mysskin’s aesthetic as well, with some loopy, shrill, Bernard Herrmann-esque score (at least one of his lead men recalls Scottie Ferguson) and a number of repeating compositions.

— Mysskin is one of the few filmmakers in the country who can take melodrama head on without falling back. He is not a minimalist trying to sap out the excess from it, but a director working on a grand canvas, blowing up the form. Much like John Ford, with whom he shares an affinity for the sky and the heroes who adorn it, Mysskin uses music to enrich the gravity of a situation than substituting for it, to multiply emotions rather than adding them; instinctive rather than instructive, expressionistic rather than expressive. Mysskin earns his violins. At times, the deployment is incongruous (and prescient) with what we are seeing, but, in retrospect, is overwhelming. Like Ford, he has this uncanny ability to elevate commonplace gestures and glances to mythical levels. A Western by Mysskin wouldn’t really be a surprise, given how his own filmmaking instincts and themes derive from Westerns, by way of Samurai movies: codes of honor, responsibility towards one’s men.

— Although God is never quite absent from the films’ worlds, His silence becomes too threatening. There is a myriad of God’s eye compositions that seem to witness all sorts of activities with equanimity, without judgment. It is perhaps the worlds themselves that have fallen and it is probably up to the people who live in it to sort it all out. Mysskin’s camera that keeps descending from the sky onto the ground, then, signals a universe where man has to take up the responsibility of God, in His silence. This goes well along with Mysskin’s deep-rooted distrust of institutionalized justice and his muddled yet ultimately silly plea for vigilantism. (He is much more comfortable and intriguing when dealing with metaphysical ideas than sociopolitical particulars). The men in his films never seem to be able to fit into rigid establishments and find law and justice to be concepts often diverging from each other.

 

(Filmography: Chithiram Pesuthadi (2006), Anjathey (2008), Nandhalala (2010), Yuddham Sei (2011))

Nandalala (2010)
Myshkin
Tamil

 

NandalalaTamil auteur Myshkin’s third venture Nandalala (2010) has its opening credits rolling over an image that seems straight out of Solaris (1972): two weeds gently swayed by the water flowing over them. Likewise, in the film, Bhaskar (Myshkin) and Agilesh (Ashwath Ram) are two kindred fishes flowing upstream, possibly trying to undo their births into this brutal world, in search of their origin: their respective mothers. As is made explicit in a near-surreal night scene at the beginning, the fear of being abandoned – by mother, by the state and by God – forms the backbone of Myshkin’s film. Walking along the margin of the highway like those reptilian critters we see, the duo comes across and strikes a rapport with a number of people almost all of whom live on the fringes of society. Bhaskar and Agilesh, themselves, are misfits who’ve broken away from the establishment – the asylum and the school. Those in the mainstream, on the other hand, are seen in the safety of their houses and cars. Paranoid, hateful, hypocritical and downright barbaric, they seem distrustful of everything that might distract them from their well laid plans. (That Myshkin casts himself in a starless film that he had to struggle to get funds for makes this a story of a marginalized filmmaker struggling with the industry as well). Social integration, however, is not what Nandalala aims for. For Myshkin, as is represented in the opening shot, it is the society that is constant flux around these central characters who find meaning in their relationship with each other rather than their position in the society. (The last scene is probably a little more cynical than it appears to be). Punctuated by Fordian skylines and generally jarring bird’s eye view shots that desert the characters, Nandalala, over-scored, overacted, imprudently written and characteristically over-directed at times, nevertheless continues to refine and fortify Myshkin’s cinema of physicality with its long shot filmmaking, chopped framing, brittle cutting and Mifune-esque performances.

 

(Image Courtesy: Tamil Torrents)

After his previous winner “Chittiram Pesudhadi”, Mysskin is back with “Anjaathey” starring Prasanna and Naren. With Prasanna in a never-seen-before role, the film was one of the films to be watched out for. So, here I am, writing my thoughts and opinions on the film.

The plot of the film is fairly simple. Krupa and Sathya are two friends who are headed towards different lives. By a small inciting incident blown over, their fates take a U-turn and their lives proceed unexpectedly, thanks to Daya. What follows is the realization of their lives by the friends and the moral questions that surround them. With the exception of the slightly overlong climax and about 2-3 overdone scenes containing stereotype situations (M. S. Bhaskar cursing his son, Sathya, for one), the flick boasts of uninterrupted and fast screenplay.

Naren is the pick of all the performances and is all set to set a firm foot in Kollywood. The scene where he realizes the rights and privileges of a policeman oozes with good performance. Prasanna’s portrayal of an eccentric but meticulous baddie with his own set of idiosyncrasies is commendable but not very memorable. Though Pandiyarajan remains for almost the whole movie, he seems to be there only as a comic relief.

Not only Mysskin’s name seems to be Russian, but his techniques too. The extreme close-ups and the montage flow of action in the film are reminiscent of the pre-war soviet cinema. The brilliant use of non-diegetic sound for almost the whole climax provides the grandeur a showdown must have. The cinematography of the film is a very strong point. However, the unrestrained use of free-cam becomes distracting at times. Also, the experimental rapid cutting during the early part of the film does no good to the film. Though the film is very racy through out, it is almost completely humourless. The film cries for relief in the first half with even the costumes and the lighting being dark. The dialogues would have been hard-hitting only if it were not mixed with English in a tasteless manner. The background score has aided the movie big time, except for some obvious emotional manipulation.

The film could have avoided the love track completely, but how else will the director push in one more song?. And where was Krupa’s sanity and composure (that he maintains when he is with Daya) when he failed the IPS test?. All said, the film certainly tells us three things: 1. Naren is here to stay, 2. Mysskin is a bankable director and 3. Prasanna can do more than run around trees and can say more than “Kudunga aunty, naa bag-a thookittu varen…”!

Verdict: