It has been 12 years since Mysskin‘s Anjathe premiered in theatres to high critical acclaim and… commercial success. This “Avengers-level achievement” prompted enthusiasts to insist that Anjathe heralded “Tamil New Wave” cinema, thanks to the confidence lent by films such as Paruthiveeran, Kattradhu Tamil and Chennai 28, which released a year earlier. While it is true that Tamil cinema has since evolved, it is not a ‘wave’, in the league of the ‘French New Wave’. Anjathe, was rather what I’d call a ripple; something that made a mark and has remained significant over a period of time. With time, this has become evident.
Aram Seiya Virumbu… Aruvathu Sinam!
Taken from Avvaiyar’s Aathichudi, the movie was earlier titled Aruvathu Sinam (“Anger should be one that reduces”), and it makes sense now, especially seeing Mysskin’s oeuvre since. At the core, his films are always about compassion, no matter how amoral and gloomy the flourishes are. You have at least one character in his film who desires to “do that what is right” (“aram seiya virumbu”).
In Anjathe, it is our protagonist Sathyavan (‘the truthful one’, played by Narain). But the character himself can’t be described as one… at least, not in the beginning. We get introduced to Sathya as the typical rowdy-wastrel-with-a-good-heart who beats a few thugs up for punching his close friend Kirubakaran (‘the one with merciful hands’, played by Ajmal Ameer). Though Kiruba and Sathya live across each other in a police quarters, and graduate from the same college with a first-class degree, Kiruba is kind, responsible and works hard to clear the Sub-Inspector exam. Sathya drinks and picks up petty fights, much to his dad’s (MS Bhaskar) frustration.
When Sathya decides to give a shot at the exam under Kiruba’s push, he does so by cheating his way using his uncle’s influence. He gets the job, not Kiruba. Kiruba agonises, and confronts Sathya. Thus begins their transformation. Sathya goes off to train for a year and becomes a responsible and “truthful” officer who takes it upon himself to catch the serial convicts; on the other hand, Kiruba drowns himself in alcohol over regret and jealousy, and slowly gets drawn into a life of crime. However, throughout the film we see instances of him being “merciful” – he even saves a girl from being raped by his now-companion Dheena (a serial rapist played by Prasanna), but the fact remains that he did help kidnap the girl in the first place.
Thus, Sathya and Kiruba not only form the perfect yin-yang, but they invert too, over the course of the film. With Psycho (2020) and its specific character names (such as Gautam and Dakini), and the numerous “decoding” videos, we know Buddhism is an obvious trope of Mysskin’s films. But, his flirtation with Eastern philosophy and metaphors such as yin-yang were evident even in Anjathe.
Packed with subtext
Mysskin’s films lend themselves to discussion, and are often broken down by critics. Anjathe was full of scenes packed with subtext. Take, for instance, iconic scenes (which also lent themselves to spoofs) such as the one where we follow via Steadicam the movement of kidnappers travelling in and out of rooms to avoid being caught. Or, the unexpected wide shot when Sathya comes across a bloodied, dying man lying alone on a street, and fails to convince auto drivers to take him to hospital. Finally, an elderly flower seller sits behind Sathya in the bike, and sandwiches the injured stranger in between them; he dies en route.
The tones and characters are also aspects of Mysskin’s films that get discussed. We get a solemn closure to the scene described above when the old lady drops a few flowers over the blood stains on the road, as some sort of last rite. The director also juxtaposes a moment of ‘small victory’ – the death of one “bad guy” (a kidnapper-rapist) – by showing the man’s kid witness the murder and constantly calling out “appa appa” and jumping to reach his dead father, while the policemen block him, moving left and right – a bleak moment that makes us wonder what the boy’s life will be like growing up. Will he turn out to be like the ‘psycho’ from Psycho (2020)? Or, the kid from Thupparivalan (2017) who sets off the plot?
Of course, mention must be made of the songs. What about Mysskin’s singing persona? The voice which could pull off the shrill ‘Bar Anthem’ in Mugamoodi (2012) and ‘Ivan Thupparivaalan’ in a deep baritone sings ‘Mahakavi’ Bharathi’s ‘Acham Thavir’ to open Anjathe. ‘Kaththazha Kannala’ and ‘Kannadasan Karakudi’ in Anjathe are still so popular.
Since Anjathe, we have had many films exploring human complexities. Jigarthanda (2014) and Vikram Vedha (2017) are newer yin-yang films, and the latter also builds upon the Vikramadityan-Vedhalam legend. Along with Mysskin’s films such as Yuddham Sei (2011) and Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum (2013), films like Aaranya Kandam (2011), Pizza (2012) and Soodhu Kavvum (2013) furthered the dark comedy genre. This was something we saw in Anjathe too – just as Kiruba’s mother curses Sathya’s dad to be struck down by a heart attack, her husband falls down after one; and this leads Kiruba to take up crime for his dad’s treatment, as his ego prevents him from accepting Sathya’s monetary aid.
One of the greatest pleasures of watching filmmakers such as Mysskin is how they weave myriad stories out of the same fundamentals. It is the adult equivalent of a kid’s kaleidoscope. The more shapes the same particles make without repetition, the greater the amusement and the larger the allure of the world.