Mysskin: Writing a film for a hero feels wrong to me
Mysskin, in a free-wheeling conversation, touches upon a variety of topics including his recently-released film, Psycho, his choice of shots, and the décor in his office
Mysskin’s office/home was already invaded by many media professionals and YouTubers by the time I entered. The visitors were scattered across the house, but the majority of them looked transfixed at the walls that were covered with photo frames from ceiling to floor. Kubrick stares at you from above Savitri. Andrei Tarkovsky and Nasser share space. There’s Ilaiyaraaja, Charles Bukowski... Waiting for my turn to speak with the director, these masters kept me occupied.
My turn eventually arrived and I began, “Is the point of all artists to end up on the wall of someone’s house, like these icons?” Mysskin refused that this was his ambition. “In the long run, if my films are worthy enough, my photo might get plastered someone’s wall but I would have been gone by then. People say it is about leaving a legacy… Apdilaam oru vengaayum kedayaathu. I have all these photos because they have taught me about life. I don’t always look at them, but sometimes, I stand watching, thinking about their lives. They tell me stuff. They help keep the fire in me burning.”
Mysskin’s films, including Psycho, teem with references to such icons, and the director doesn’t care if it’s thought to be ‘name-dropping’ or ‘showing off’. “That denotes their understanding of things. I never mention names of books without reading them. I don’t care about such criticism; it has no effect on me.”
On the generally extreme responses to the film, the director noted that his films like Pisasu and Anjathey didn’t have divided opinion. “I knew Psycho would because of the moral dilemma in it. I have also questioned certain moralities, but it is criminal to say one side is right and the other is wrong. Differing opinions make the world beautiful. If all flowers turn into roses, the world would become boring. I am not trying to get away with a diplomatic answer. I am this way.”
Humanising a serial killer has resulted in some opposition, and I asked about the pressure on artists to be politically correct. Mysskin responded, “That’s because of the political scenario today. Artists are always oppressed by such constraints. An artist questions political correctness. It is not the other way around. This is an old problem.”
Psycho touches upon the subject of violence against children. “I would like to be clear on one thing: Adikkardhu thappu illa. Parents have all the right to correct their children but it should not injure their hearts. Psycho is a story about those specific characters in the film; I am not generalising things. The takeaway is we should protect our children...”
The director has never seen any film featuring Vishal or Udhaynidhi Stalin, and has seen one of actor Singampuli, which he admitted not being a fan of. Detachment from Tamil cinema, he added, is essential for him to come up with better films. “I should be like the Stranger of Albert Camus. Or else, I won’t understand the strangeness of society. Psycho is about a stranger. You can’t understand Angulimala (Raj Kumar) like you do your neighbour. The questions are there in the strangeness of our society and so are the answers.”
The director spoke about why he’s careful about what Tamil films he watches. “I watched Asuran. Hats off to Dhanush and Vetri Maaran for adapting a literary work. It is a noble act to transform work from one medium to another. On the other hand, we have Ram and Peranbu. No filmmaker in this country has spoken about the sexual urges of a special child. I want to watch films like these... I respect my time. I can sit all day without moving a thing but watching a film just for entertainment... I can’t relate to that.”
Mysskin went on to touch upon his fear of taking his camera close to human faces. “In real life, when there is a conflict, we go away from the source. Only in cinema does the camera go towards it. I am scared that close-ups may reveal more than I intend. With cinema, less is more. A character doesn’t have to scream when his mother dies; he can just sit near her leg and mourn.”
There’s plenty of symbolism in his films, including in Psycho. I asked if he worried that the avergae viewer may not catch it. “It is okay to spoon-feed the audience but the cinematic experience feels elevated if you let them decode the symbolism. A lot of times you should leave things unsaid and when others understand it themselves, life becomes beautiful.”
The director isn’t averse to working with stars, though his filmography betrays no great interest in it. “I don't mind, but they have to initiate the conversation. If they think such a collaboration would benefit everyone, I am game for it. I don't like the idea of asking someone, ‘Oru padam pannalaama?’ My manager is the same person who handles Ajith Kumar but I have never asked for an appointment. I would be embarrassed. Also, writing a story for a hero feels wrong to me (laughs)."