Ahead of Psycho’s Release, Delving Into Mysskin’s Unique Craft

The name Mysskin - UNFAMILIAR and EXOTIC, right? His cinema is just the SAME.

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Director Mysskin is a genre bender in Tamil Cinema.
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The name Mysskin - UNFAMILIAR and EXOTIC, right? His cinema is just the SAME.

Films from Chithiram Pesuthadi (2006), and Anjathey (2008), to Pisasu (2014) and Super Deluxe (2019, as co-writer), to Psycho, which is scheduled to release on 24 January, have effectively been genre-bendres.

And you can see the evolution of his craft - from a raw, untreated visual language to a nuanced aesthetic.

Mysskin : What’s In a Name?

Mysskin is a pen name - he was born Shanmugha Raja. The filmmaker chose to be called Mysskin - a derivative of the Hebrew word for mouse.

What’s the relation between Mysskin and a mouse?

They both nibble at everything.

A conversation with Mysskin will take you around the world, across cinema from Japan, Germany and France. And introduce you to Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Puthumai Piththan along the way. He’ll tell you something about everything.

But what the pen name truly signifies, is that he’s an Idiot.

Prince Myshkin, a character from the book, The Idiot.
Prince Myshkin, a character from the book, The Idiot.
(Photo Courtesy: kobo.com)

The Idiot

Prince Myshkin is the protagonist of the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky’s, The Idiot. An extremely intelligent, empathetic individual with an incisive understanding of life. The world considers him an idiot, because of his overtly positive nature and aspirations. This about sums up director Mysskin’s approach to cinema.

He creates dark worlds with complex characters. But even in the midst of deep internal conflict, there is always that lone ray of sunshine.

Take the plot of Anjathey, for example. Two men who dream of becoming IPS officers. One who believes in getting in through merit, is predictably sidelined. And the other, who muscles his way in through money. The good man turns villain. The bad cop, inspired by the good man, rises above himself. At the climax, they both find redemption. The movie launched Prasanna as a powerful actor, and introduced Tamil cinema to the Mysskin genre.

Mysskin is a genre unto himself.
Mysskin is a genre unto himself.
(Photo Courtesy: Indiaglitz)

The Mysskin Genre

This genre is quite fluid, simply because Mysskin, as a filmmaker, continues to grow and evolve. From shooting almost the entire film on steadycam (Anjathey, Onayum Attukuttiyum), to Psycho that feels like a study in static frames, Mysskin’s visual language is work in progress.

But his faith in prolonged silences, sudden breathing spaces minus music, movement or dialogue scattered across poignant moments, and sudden bursts of action, are consistent tropes.

Like Martin Scorsese’s fixation on the central character’s moral/Christian dilemma, Mysskin places his characters in deeply unsettling situations. Invariably, the characters or the audience, end up changing their perspectives about an individual or the story, or the film itself.

Pisasu (2014) is a ghost story, released in a year that saw the rise of the comedy/horror genre. There was neither comedy nor horror in Pisasu. And it turned out to be a story about father-daughter relationship. Incidentally, the father isn’t the central character of the film.

A consummate filmmaker, Mysskin aims for the holy grail of cinema that combines art and populism.
A consummate filmmaker, Mysskin aims for the holy grail of cinema that combines art and populism.
(Photo Courtesy: Deccan Herald)

Cinema As Art, For All?

This is, of course, every filmmaker and artist’s dream. But Mysskin’s journey towards making a deeply technical film that appeals to all, is beautiful to watch.

He mingles his love for Kurosawa’s visual drama, with an entirely unique way of directing his actors. He sets up scenes that are unsettling visually, because they don’t look like ‘normal cinema’. Like the hunting scene in Onayum Attukkutiyum (2013), that’s dark, jittery, unevenly lit. And yet, there’s something in it, in the performances, the rawness of it all, that makes the scene a gripping watch.

What truly sets Mysskin’s cinema apart is his effort in trying to make his films speak in multiple voices, where different parts of the film reveal the story from the viewpoint of different characters. Like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Or Twelve Angry Men. Or Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, that gave Mysskin his name, and his ouvre.

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