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, 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.