Wondering how Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum will be perceived if it is released now. One can tell with certainty that it would still be praised as a great piece of cinema. It has the common trait that all great films share–a commitment to the medium. Only a few filmmakers in Tamil cinema have a distinct style. A scene or a frame would be enough to guess the director who conceived it. Mani Ratnam is one such filmmaker. His style is so popular that you can spot it not just in his film but also in the works of others. Mysskin belongs to the same league of filmmakers. His eccentric camera angles and shots–like the mocked low-angle scenes in Anjaathey that follow characters’ legs–have become his trademarks. While he is most often discussed for his eccentricities and inconsistent opinions, the director is seldom credited for his contributions to Tamil cinema.
Mysskin is perhaps the only director who operates outside reality, even when his films are set in our cityscapes. What I mean by that is that Mysskin films are a bit off when it comes to what happens with the characters in them. A blind musician and a paraplegic doctor can never ride a car uphill, but it can happen in Mysskin’s world. It is sometimes beyond rationality, but the point is more about emotions than logic. That’s why one must consider his world to be a bit surreal. On top of that, it is a bit disconnected from the real world. Onnayum Aattukkuttiyum can be released now, and it would still come across as a film that was shot in the present because Mysskin doesn’t bother himself with what’s happening in the real world. Politics, caste, social media, and other everyday things don’t occupy a lot of space in his world. He talks about things that are behind the reality, like good, evil, dark, light, sins, deeds. In Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum, the anti-hero’s name is Wolf. Zero subtlety. But that’s intentional because Mysskin doesn’t shy away from exaggerations. He would say he has seen Seven Samurai a thousand times. Now, artists and writers exaggerate, and that’s their job. A painting is an exaggeration of reality. Van Gogh used bold colours to exaggerate, and Mysskin used eccentric characters to do that (this is an exaggerated comparison, by the way).
In essence, Onnayum Aattukkuttiyum is a fable that was turned into a cinema. And fables are sometimes about unrealistic animals. Mysskin turns these animals into characters and their traits into human nature. Here Wolf (played by Mysskin himself) is a hunter, who is now acting out. He is not hunting sheep anymore but seeking redemption by protecting them. While he is on his way to absolve himself, he gets shot by police officers, who are lions in this world. Now, lions rule. They maintain order, but the greater objective is to make sure that they are at the top. There can be good lions and bad lions. A goat (Shri as Chandru) saves the Wolf, thereby getting involved in the world of hunters.
Mysskin is the first contemporary Tamil director to use the crime genre to discuss humanity. While it is a common phenomenon in the West, crime procedurals are always treated as a thriller in Tamil cinema, and Mysskin changed the game with Anjaathey. That film also dealt with a similar scenario like Onnayum Aattukkuttiyum, where the tables get turned, when the hunter becomes the hunted and the good becomes evil. Mysskin’s films ooze humanity, and at times, they become melodrama, like the scene in Onnayum Aattukkuttiyum where the beggar keeps repeating ‘You are a doctor’ to Chandru (Shri). Later, in another scene, blind comrades reject the money Wolf offers, which is supposed to mean that love is more precious.
Such truisms are omnipresent in Mysskin’s universe because he believes they should be repeated even if the modern world wants to term it cringe. But Mysskin will easily get away with it because he has the power of visual language. Take the pre-climatic scene of Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum. Wolf needlessly ties up Chandru, who has by now developed empathy for him. He ties his hands and legs, and then he seals his mouth with a tape. This is all a set-up for what is to follow. Chandru will next witness the taking of an innocent life before his eyes, and he cannot do anything about it. He screams and wails, but his voice doesn’t get out. The scene can be easily termed melodramatic or–to exaggerate like Mysskin– emotional manipulation. However, one is ready to forgive Mysskin because, like Chandru, he also wins over our empathy.
What’s more brilliant about Mysskin movies is that despite dealing with such abstract concepts like morals, it doesn’t wallow itself in self-indulgence. The director delivers an entertaining movie. Onnayum Aattukkuttiyum might be about big ideas, but it can also be enjoyed as a suspense thriller like Collateral (both films have a similar storyline). Even the initial sequence of Chandru, a medical student, operating on Wolf with the guidance of his professor over the phone is made with such brilliance and engagement, making Mysskin an abled entertainer as well.