A tribute to the acclaimed film-maker on his birthday…

By Mani Prabhu

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How about a little bit of a reflection!

Let’s assume for a moment that we are dealing with an emotionally trampled protagonist with a gnawing conscience, caught in a specific time-frame. And now, there comes a requirement in the script to further his characterization.

In essence, this sequence should exist in the film for a simple reason – to take the story forward; to define – the ineffable arc that the budding violinist (someone who was once avidly climbing the ladder of success) takes after a cruel tryst with destiny – the sort of person he becomes post this accident – the introverted cocoon he wantonly withdraws himself into – the kind of ambiance and company, he now finds solace in – the affectation, this quest seemingly has on his understanding of life’s purpose – the abundance of ways in which the forced solitude appears to have influenced his redemption.

And all you have got is a little less than four minutes.

We would normally expect this to be conveyed through a couple of super-emotive scenes involving the protagonist’s actions, set in different locations under increasingly strained circumstances. After all, you do have the luxury of time and space in this medium, right?

But, Mysskin is not that kind of a film-maker.

He sets this part of his lead’s emotional evolution within the cavernous confines of something as commonplace and cramped as the atrium of a Chennai Subway, proceeds to weave an expressionist piece of poetry out of the everyday stories of its inhabitants, skilfully interlinks it to the inner conflicts of the protagonist in his own signature style, and presents it as a soul-stirring mood piece.

Well, you could call it a ‘song’. But that’s just the film-maker playing mind-games with you. You have been tricked into believing that it’s yet another of those cinematic rituals being served to you on a platter. Years of mindless training even tempt you to ease back on your seat, and catch some shut-eye.

But beware; the storyteller has just begun narrating another one of those compelling tales.

It’s Mysskin smartly bowing before mainstream traditions, while reinventing them in breathtakingly brilliant ways.  It’s deceit. An exquisite one, at that. Dare you bat an eyelid!

Even as the prelude to the song starts in the background, Mysskin gets down to business.

A ground-level shot shows the protagonist, Sid, replace his work-shoes with worn out slippers. We get a sneak-peak into the man’s priorities.

In the very next frame, the frozen lens points to a flight of stairs, showing the man entering the frame from the top while holding on to a violin-case. The camera refuses to move along.  It just gazes, almost taking a saint-like stance.  As Sid exits the frame from below, we get one more projection of his emotional turbulence  – his leisurely pace when compared to the man with the shoes who is almost jogging behind.

And voila, just two shots and before we know where Sid is headed, we have almost penetrated his thoughts. Here is a depressed man, who seems to have found a cure.

போகும் பாதை தூரமில்லை
வாழும் வாழ்க்கை பாரமில்லை…

The brooding becomes increasingly evident in the third wide-angle shot which shows him walking through one of the crowded passages inside a city subway. People all around seem to be pushing themselves through another of their habitual days. The shot further captures Sid taking unhurried, measured steps along the brim of the corridor. This man doesn’t want to be disturbed. There seems to be an undeniable dash of intent even in all that deliberation. This man knows what he is doing.

But wait before you gape, as the shot continues to spew more details. We get the first glimpse of the handicapped toy-seller, who is trying his best to gain attention in a sea of people oblivious to his existence. And now we get questions. How does Sid fare when compared to this cripple? They both seem to be struggling for a meaningful existence, but how different are they, when put on a pedestal?

சாய்ந்து தோள் கொடு
இறைவன் உந்தன் காலடியில்…

And then, a fourth mid-close up shot of Sid shows his flowing tresses obscuring one of his eyes. Is his vision complete? Is his intent logical? Or is there another perspective to all his grieving, which he had not yet comprehended?

இருள் விலகும் அக ஒளியில்…

Four shots. Yes, just four meaningful ones! That’s all it takes for Mysskin to nail the milieu and his main character’s complex contemplations.

And the prelude had not even ended.

The fifth and the final shot of the prelude shifts into the central atrium of the subway, starts by slowly ambling from behind, nimbly arcs around the pivotal pillar (which would go on to function as the fulcrum of the rest of the song) and introduces us to the singer, a small girl in rags holding a begging bowl…

அன்னம் பகிர்ந்திடு
அன்னம் பகிர்ந்திடு…

The sixtieth second. That’s when it happens.

Just as the mesmerizing violin makes an appearance, the camera literally soars tangentially from the girl to Sid, who is playing the instrument leaned against one of the curved walls of the atrium, a few blind men seated adjacent to him.

The mystery is solved. We get to know the purpose of Sid’s travel. We get to understand his craving for this strange kind of absolution.

And, the goose-flesh begins…

26 seconds of the solo violin taking control of our amygdalas, before the actual song makes an appearance. 26 seconds of bliss and melancholy rolled into a single emotion, the former effortlessly seeping into the latter.

And as the bow glides across the strings, giving rise to some pure magic, the camera starts a competitive orchestra on its own, hovering graciously through the humblest of spaces, synchronous with the passionate ballad.

Again, Mysskin composes exactly four shots in this 26 second interval, all of them slithering through walls and arcing around bends, revealing never-before-seen purpose and hope.  We get to know that two of the blind people happen to be a couple, when the lady gets a shoulder to lean on. We are treated to fleeting glimpses of a woman selling flowers, an old-man selling muffler caps, a bag-peddler, a midget selling balloons and along with these, unending haikus of love, compassion, survival and hunger.  We get single frames which tell more stories than what average half-an-hour sub-plots would. And in greater detail.

After taking us through this magical trip of conflicting emotions, the fourth and final shot in this ‘violin-stretch’ pulls back to the singing girl.

In exactly one minute and twenty six seconds, a moment before even the principal lyrics begin, we have been dragged into the subway… Into the lives of the people making a living out of it, and made to sit with them.

We smile. We cry. We stare. We sigh. We scowl. We quiver. But we forget to blink. For we end up inside those people’s heads.

நதி போகும் கூழாங்கல்,
பயணம் தடயம் இல்லை…
வலி தாங்கும் சுமைதாங்கி,
மண்ணில் பாரம் இல்லை…
ஒவ்வொரு அலையின் பின்,
இன்னொரு கடல் உண்டு…
நம் கண்ணீர் இனிக்கட்டுமே!

Here is the video:

Credits:

Cinematography: Ravee Roy
Music: Arrol Corelli