Mysskin: Bold and on your face

This is a short post I made on Tamil movie director Mysskin’s speech at a short film festival in December 2017 in Ooty. It has not been published elsewhere. As always, your comments are most welcome.

His speech done, Mysskin, with his trademark shades intact, stepped down and mingled with the crowd at Ooty Film Festival held at Assembly Rooms on December 8, 9 and 10, 2017. He had just demonstrated that his oratory skills were at least as good as his ability to turn out hit pictures. He shook hands with familiar faces and fans and made his way to the food counter, where people queued up to take individual snaps with him. He was especially courteous to women unlike many characters in his movies. Mysskin was patient as the whole process took long minutes.

Mysskin’s role in the festival, comprising mostly of short films, had been as a mentor of sorts and the organisers made no bones of the fact that his hand had steadied the ship. Earlier, on December 8, the festival had begun with a Sinhalese film directed by Prasanna Vithanage.

On Saturday, December 9, Mysskin delivered his rousing speech, which held the audience in thrall. The small hall behind Assembly Rooms, where the sessions were held, was jam-packed and the director targeted his speech, titled ‘Meditation in the Art of Film-making’, mostly at the film students gathered there.

Throughout his speech that ran well over 90 minutes, Mysskin seemed brutally honest, often taking pot shots at public figures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi (he may arrest me), superstar Rajinikanth (I can’t hope he understands my movies), and actor Kamal Haasan (my stories are wasted on him).

Mysskin went on to prescribe a number of steps that film students should take to have a successful career in the world of celluloid. From reading great masters like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to watching the seminal classics on film, an image of director mysskin he called upon students to have discipline in the way they work in their chosen field. “The fundamentals of cinematography and framing a shot can be understood by looking at the best black and white photos ever shot,” he said.

Bemoaning the lack of quality in the Tamil short films submitted to the festival, he said there was a wide chasm between home-grown films and those submitted from Iran and Sri Lanka. “It is with a sinking heart that I say that some films submitted to the festival were really poor,” he said. He went on to illustrate how film students could base their films on the acclaimed works of Tamil writers. “Our culture is in no way inferior to that of many countries across the world. There is no reason why the films cannot be as good,” he said.

Mentioning how film students were being increasingly influenced by the works of highly successful directors of tentpole movies like Christopher Nolan, he persuaded students to have a “simple approach to the process of film-making” to begin with. “You really can’t afford to dream that you are going to make the next Interstellar,” Mysskin said.

His speech was freely littered with cuss words and every time he mentioned a word that can’t be reproduced here, there was much cheering from the audience. “This is not Parliament. I can get away with saying unparliamentary words. And, you will all go to sleep if I drone on here on stage. I want you to listen to what I am saying. And, I am obliged to make sure you are not distracted,” he said.

Giving an example from his own experience at the sets of Nandalala, he said he had written 22 scenes for his opening sequence in the film. But he was constrained at the set because someone had failed to get the required permission to shoot the sequence. “Shooting the whole sequence would have taken me at least a day. I thought for a few minutes and then decided to just restrict the whole sequence to just one shot. As a crowd rushes out of a school, I got the boy (who plays a central role in the film) to look into the camera,” he said, explaining how the film-making process can be made both economical and powerful.

“There are just three shots in film-making: Longshot, mid-shot and close-up. If you are wondering about god-shot and mise-en-scene as your begin your film-making process, well, hard luck, you may not complete your film,” he said.

Mysskin began his journey with 2006’s Chithiram Pesuthadi. Many of his films including Anjathe and Onayum Aatukuttiyum went on to achieve considerable commercial success and critical acclaim.

Jackie – Inside the White House

Saw Jackie, the movie on the former First Lady of the US, and want to write my thoughts on it. Natalie Portman portrays Jacqueline Kennedy as a widow, who has the inner reserves to make a difference in the crucial days following the assassination of her husband John F Kennedy.

The lead performance is towering and played with endless compassion by Portman as the camera swoops into many close-ups including the one that begins the movie. She is unlucky to have not won the Oscar this year, seeing as it were that she was up against Emma Stone’s enormously popular performance in La La Land.

The movie essays back and forth as if travelling in Jackie’s memory. The tour of the White House, flawlessly reconstructed with Jackie playing the charming hostess, was broadcast and seen by millions of viewers. This film, along with sYousuf-Karsh-John-and-Jackie-Kennedy-1957-1644x1960imilarly captured moments, form important parts of the movie. Jackie’s conversation with a priest, played by John Hurt before his death, also plays out as a riveting piece of the action, especially when the priest recounts the parable of Jesus and the blind man. The movie is also a throwback to the days when Jackie shared a close bond with Robert F Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), who bitterly complains about the family legacy that had gone wrong with the death of the president.

Jackie is also shown as wandering through the elegant and well-kept rooms of the White House in a daze. She is also shown self-medicating herself along with large swigs of vodka. She is also seen chain smoking through an interview with an unnamed journalist portrayed by Billy Crudup. But the show must go on, and it does.

The Oscar-nominated music by Mica Levi is haunting and provides perfect thrust at many of the movie’s dramatic moments. I thought the movie should have ended better; the ballroom sequence seemed a bit tacky. The movie is directed by Pablo Larrain and written by Noah Oppenheim.

The Outlook 3

As Acham Enbathu Madamaiyada was released, I did a story on Gautham Menon. When I grew tired of superhero movies, I did this article for Outlookindia.com. My take on everybody’s favourite dragon story was published here.

Your comments are invaluable. Please leave them in the space below.

MAMI festival: The First Post reviews

Mumbai is a lovely city. It hit me again when I visited the city recently. This is my third visit to the business hub of India. My first time was with my dad when I was 11. I visited again for the marriage of my friends; one friend was marrying another, and we all joined in for the festivities.

This time, I was in the city to attend the film festival organised by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI). I was there between October 11 and 19. Most of the time was spent in theatres, including the charming Regal Theatre at Colaba.

I stayed at my friend Abhiney’s house in Chembur East. On most days, I had breakfast and dinner there. It was good Bengali food and I hogged like anything.

Onto the serious business now. I am listing out the reviews of the movies that I did for firstpost.com

The Hungry

A Fantastic Woman

Chavela

I Am Not A Witch

Wajib

Please do leave your comments.

My continuing stint with TNM: From Ilaiyaraaja to Mumbai film festival

filmOn Tuesday, October 24, 2017, IV Sasi died. The obit I wrote for the Malayalam cinema’s box-office king was published in The News Minute (TNM).

I attended the film festival organised by Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image. My article, with short summaries of all the films I saw, is here.  

Most of the articles I wrote for TNM are here. Click through to read them. As many as 12 articles were published between July 7, 2015 and October 25. 2017.

2016 Delhi trip, with students of McGans

 

It was a few minutes past midnight on Christmas day of 2016 that 77 students, all of them third-years at McGans Ooty School of Architecture, took off to the Coimbatore railway station in five minibuses. The temperature was freezing, under 10 degree Celsius. The students were warmly dressed, but still, could not keep their hands off their mobiles. The students were led by four staff — Senthil Maruthavanan, Arun Davis, Sarika Agarwal and my wife, Dhenuka. I was on the first bus.

The idea was to take the students on a study tour of Agra, Delhi and Chandigarh and expose them to the places of architectural importance in these cities and supplement what they had learned in theory. Hopefully, this would fire up their imaginations and shape them along the way to becoming better architects. I was to tag along and record the trip for the college.

Soon enough, we were winding our way to Kothagiri en route to Coimbatore. Luckily, the fog cover was light. The driver was playing gentle music and soon enough the whoops, whistles and catcalls gave way to the steady sounds of breathing made by sleeping students.

We were well ahead of time at the Coimbatore railway station. Thilakar alias Kutty, the representative from Metro Travels, the agency hired by McGans, shepherded us on to the right platform. He was always closeby through the entire trip and his experience was invaluable to the group during many an occasion.

The compartment on Inter-City Express we had booked was a chair car. We seated ourselves comfortably. Once we were out of Coimbatore, we had plenty to treat our eyes to, as green fields and trees rushed by. A shocker came when Thilakar got a text from Railways saying that Grand Trunk Express, which was to take us to Agra, was late by over 12 hours. We were in Chennai mid-day mentally prepared for the wait.

However, when we reached Chennai, we realised that most students were not for using the waiting rooms in the Central station, but wanted to visit their own homes in the city. Finally, a deal was struck, and after a written undertaking, everyone was let off. They were to return an hour before the train was to depart to Agra.

Much to the relief of the staff, the students were on time the next morning. The train, though late,  was seeming to be making good time once we left Chennai behind. The wintery chill gave away to a more warmer climate. Food was bad but edible. We also helped ourselves to biscuits and snacks. The students too seem to be energetic after a good night’s rest.

We reached Agra Cantonment. on the afternoon of December 28, too tired to do any touring. The winter was not intolerable as some of us had feared. Staff and students were able to engage in a bit of shopping.

But we were up early the next morning and visited the Agra Fort. A guide was engaged to enlighten the students. The walled city, built almost entirely of red stone, is a World Heritage Site and was home to the Mughals until the 17th century. It was ensured that the students had more than enough time to tour the Fort and absorb its finer details.

But touring the Taj Mahal was an entirely different story for the sheer splendour of the monument. The first thing noticed was how the crowds gathered at the foot of the structure were dwarfed by its enormity. Despite the huge crowd, a few students were not satisfied by walking around the structure. They snuck inside and took time to come out, obviously awestruck by the inner beauty of the Taj.

We then went to Fatehpur-Sikri, a city founded by Akbar in 1569. It is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture and has been impeccably preserved. It consists of grand palaces, courtyards, mosques and harems. It was noticed that the local guide spent considerable time explaining Akbar’s relationships with various queens. Many students also took time out to pray at the mosque. Since it was winter, the city was not crowded and we had ample time to take it in the surroundings.

We then hit the National Capital. It was early in the morning when we reached Delhi and had a catch a few winks before heading out. The famous Qutub Minar, one of the tallest minarets in the world, was first on our list. It was maintained well as it is a World Heritage monument.

The Sanskriti Kendra, an extremely well-kept centre, is a tribute to nature with its lotus ponds, ancient trees and shrubs. This was our next stop. The natural surroundings are gently worked into the architecture of the main building, which includes museums and a multi-purpose hall.

TERI University famous for its architecture, which is friendly towards sustainable development, was next on our itinerary. The students were given a tour of the beautiful and green campus and were briefed about its fascinating structure during a session. The varsity located in Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi is recognised globally for its work in energy, environment and sustainable development.

After a productive day, we went back to our hotel to retire for the night. We went to Chandigarh the next morning and reached there in the evening. The students were happy to visit Sector 17 to do a spot of shopping and came back with many souvenirs.

Our first visit the next morning was to Capitol Complex, which was designed by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. After a tour of the premises, we were ushered into the assembly rooms, where the Punjab and Haryana Houses meet. During the entire tour, we had informed commentary about the campus from a guide.

The Corbusier Museum, which was our next stop, was a fascinating tribute to the genius architect. The intimate relationship he enjoyed with former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was on display in many black and white photographs taken during the time.

The Nek Chand’s Rock Garden was our next stop. It is easy to get lost in this garden and time was too short to take in all its splendour. It is a tribute to the unusual skills and creativity of Nek Chand and the sculpture garden took the master a lifetime to complete.

We returned to the National Capital, where we visited the grand Indian Habitat Centre, and took time to take in a photography exhibition, which was on. The IHC is a premier cultural centre and hosts many superb events happening in the city.

Delhi Haat with its arts and crafts shops and food stalls from all the states in India was our next and last stop for the day. The food was the main attraction as students helped themselves to momos and pani pooris. They were instructed to observe how the various shops were arranged in the limited space in the heart of Delhi.

We reached our hotel as night fell. After a refreshing night’s sleep, we took off to Humayun’s tomb, which is a tribute to the famous Mughal king. The tomb along with its splendorous garden is an early example of Mughal architecture, which reached its zenith with Taj Mahal.

Our next stop was the Lotus Temple, which attracts hundreds of visitors to it every day. People are fascinated by its architecture and the Baha’i faith, which propagates the oneness of God, religions and mankind. Built in 1988, it has been on the must-visit list of tourists to Delhi ever since.  

The next visit was Rashtrapati Bhavan, the seat of the President of India. Located at the western end of Rajpath, the 340-room building is the largest residence of a head of state in the world. It was formerly known as Viceroy’s House.

After a spot of shopping, we rushed to the railway station, only to find that the train was delayed again. Coming back was the most arduous part of the trip as the train took more than 48 hours before chugging into Chennai.

We booked two private buses that brought us back safely to Ooty. It was a deeply satisfying and fulfilling trip for students and staff.

VIP2: Where pray is that magic of the original?

I remember walking into the theatre showing Velai Illa Pattadhari with little expectation and leaving with some kind of inner craving satiated.

They were cute things to relish in the movie — Amla Paul, the moped owned by Raghuvaran (Dhanush), the relationship between the two brothers, their parents played by Samuthirakani and Saranya Ponvannan and, not the least, the kuthupattu on the house terrace.

vip.jpgEven though VIP2 reprises much of this cuteness, it rings hollow and untrue this time around.

I hoped the movie will be enjoyable, especially because Soundarya Rajinikanth was directing it. But the film had none of the verve and flair of the first part. The climax, especially, was a letdown. It seems as if the director wanted to hitch her bandwagon to a successful franchise only to criminally deprive it of her own touch.

The story and the dialogues, for the most part, do not work and blame must be laid at Dhanush’s door for this. The job of the hero is central to the movie’s theme and the actor does little to deal with its intricacies. There is no layering in the script, and this would be all right if only the commercial elements really kicked in. When neither happens, part two becomes an empty shell of its original self.

As an actor, Dhanush keeps playing to the gallery and this is ingratiating, especially when he mimics his real-life father-in-law Rajinikanth. It’s like they retreaded the popular features of the first part without adding anything of much significance other than Kajol’s character.

Kajol seems to know enough to keep her villainy subtle and this is a relief even as the sequences around her fall apart. The actress isn’t helped much by the fact that her character is reduced into a caricature, leaving her with no scope to breathe life into it. The sequences in which Vasundhara clashes with Raghuvaran, which are pivotal for the success of the movie, don’t really work. He is an angel without wings and she is too egoistic for her own good. On this canvas, there seem to be no grey areas.

The parts that do work are the throwaway sequences in the first half when Samuthirakani’s character comes up with cliched ideas for his son Raghuvaran to floor his wife (Amla Paul). All of them backfire leading to some hilarity. Comedian Vivek does justice to his screen time, but the ‘Thangapushpam angle’ is not really reworked and spread too thin.

Amla Paul, Samuthirakani and Saranya Ponvannan do credible jobs. But their characters, as written by Velraj, were more interesting. Soundarya is unable to rescue any of them from becoming stereotypes.

The Chennai floods, which is a part of the climax, fails to make any impact. Not much screentime is devoted to it, save for a dialogue from Raghuvaran pointing to the obvious fact that it was great leveller. The drama of the floods, which many witnessed first hand, could not have been more diluted.

The movie seems to be cynically targeted at unemployed engineers in the state. Their sentiments are shamelessly exploited and they may very well end up as the mob cheering from the front seat. Mind you, I have nothing against engineers; only that they could spent their time productively elsewhere.