Mysskin aka Shanmuga Raja is a maverick and passionate Tamil filmmaker best known for his intense and bleak crime dramas. He is a voracious reader, so much that he borrowed his name from Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot. Although he works in the mainstream space, Mysskin has carved a niche for himself in Tamil cinema. While most filmmakers rehash the same old visual tactics, here’s a director who functions with a wondrous aesthetic sense. Mysskin’s films might be too dark and bloody for an average Tamil movie-goer. But within the atmosphere of death and violence, his works often champion compassion and forgiveness. Here’s my ranking of Mr. Mysskin’s interesting works:
9. Mugamoodi (2012)
Touted as a Batman-style superhero flick, Mugamoodi was Mysskin’s attempt to dabble with mass masala movie elements. But with an average first-half and a preposterous second-half, the film was a disaster at the box-office. The narrative had a reasonably good set-up, although the stiff characterization and over-the-top acting led to its failure. However, this lackluster work brought the best out of the director in his subsequent low-budget features.
8. Thupparivaalan (Detective, 2017)
Thupparivaalan was Mysskin’s second attempt at a mid-budget film with a well-rounded star cast. This time around he took inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. The script flounders a bit as it neither delivers top-notch intellectual twists nor staggering emotional arcs. Yet, it was far more entertaining than the disastrous Mugamoodi. Moreover, it was a welcome change to see actor Vishal playing the central role that isn’t riddled with crass commercial cinema elements.
7. Savarakathi (Straight Razor, 2018)
Technically, this black comedy was directed by G.R. Adithya, Mysskin’s assistant director. But the script (penned by Mysskin himself) plus the shot placements reveal the director’s distinct touches. While bleak drama/thrillers are the director’s strength, here he assuredly proves his mettle in full-length comedy. The film is a comedy of errors, following the grimly fascinating encounter between a raging gangster and a loud-mouthed barber. Donning the actor’s hat, directors Ram and Mysskin present funny moments through their delightfully campy performances. Savarakathi also contains a fair dosage of Mysskin’s simple humanistic observation.
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6. Chithiram Pesuthadi (2006)
On first look, Mysskin’s debut feature comes across as one of those ridiculous love stories Tamil cinema often cooks up. And, it does have oddly placed songs and certain dreary cinematic elements. The story-line is quite simple: transformation of a hardened gangster after he falls in love. But what stands out is Mysskin’s treatment and characterizations. What’s particularly interesting is the mid-way twist. Altogether, it becomes an interesting commentary on the impulses and inhibitions within a strict social life.
5. Yutham Sei (2011)
Mysskin’s bloody and gory murder mystery is riddled with enchanting expository moments. It’s not a perfect whodunit thriller. The drawn-out final portions and predictable twists don’t help the narrative much. Nevertheless, the visual style (with added emphasis on hands and feet) and directing prowess make it a worthwhile experience. The film revolves around a missing persons case; the only clue left to the police is the victim’s amputated hands. The case is entrusted to CB-CID officer (Cheran), who wishes to quit the force to solve the mystery of his own sister’s disappearance.
4. Nandalala (2010)
Inspired by Takeshi Kitano’s Kikujiro (1999), Nandalala tells the tale of a mentally challenged adult and a precocious 8-year-old boy. Their meeting is co-incidental but their mission very similar. Both are in search of their respective mothers who apparently have abandoned them. Mysskin plays the mentally challenged role. The film falls quite short compared to Kitano’s philosophical and surrealistic notions. Yet, the astounding stylization and maestro Ilayaraja’s musical score project a decent emotional intensity throughout. The eccentric and raw performances of the cast are also compelling enough to break some of the narrative’s monotony.
3. Pisasu (2014)
The ghost in this dramedy isn’t the representation of decadence; it rather remains as a conduit of empathy and mercy. Once again the story line is simple and threadbare. A young violinist is haunted by the ghost of a woman whom he watches dying in an accident. Moved by the ghost’s kindness, the protagonist takes up the task to find the person who killed her. The narrative has few jump-scare moments that are typical of horror flicks. Still, its beautiful and strong emotional layer takes it beyond the usual vengeful ghost movies. Mysskin’s visual experimentation has often left the viewers wonder-struck. The final stretch of Pisasu is a fine example of that. Director Bala produced this gothic horror film, which went on to become a box-office hit.
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2. Onaayum Aatukuttiyum (A Wolf and a Lamb, 2013)
Mysskin’s pivotal comeback movie and debut home production has a time-worn story that’s enlivened by a multi-layered script. The narrative revolves around a paid killer’s journey towards redemption. Most of the drama unfurls over a single night. Consequently, Mysskin uses this limited time-line to stylistically investigate the collective societal psyche. The title might refer to contradictory personas of evil and good. Nonetheless, the two central characters are shrouded with shades of grey. Although a thrilling tale of man-hunt, it’s packed with emotionally resonant moments. Illayaraja’s musical score further deepens the emotional impact. Overall, it’s a dark fable on the themes of morality, redemption and punishment.
1. Anjathe (2008)
Mysskin’s innovative techniques of propelling the plot were fully evident in his second feature Anjathe. From the opening low-angle frame, unconventional lighting techniques to deft use of symbolism, the director relentlessly strives for auteurship. In fact, he mostly succeeds in that attempt. Anjathe is a standard police vs criminal story, which observes the conflicts that drive apart two best friends. Even though it’s touted as a suspense drama, this is a complex work that successfully combines a number of humanistic themes. Mysskin’s penchant for odd camera angles is strewn across the narrative. For example, a villain’s despicable voyeuristic gaze is entirely filmed few inches above the floor. The symbolism and visual techniques at times may seem a bit on-the-nose. Nevertheless, it’s an unusually profound and thoroughly entertaining crime drama from Tamil cinema.
By Arun Kumar
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An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’