That Mysskin has reached auteur level was evident even in his earlier films, but he hammers it beyond doubt in Onaiyum Aatukuttiyum! This is a film that has every one of his trademark ‘touches’ in full flow, plus much more!
As a frenetically paced thriller, the film works flawlessly in keeping your attention focused. There are logical jumps (it is said that recovering from an open spleen removal surgery takes at least 4-8 weeks, but Mysskin’s wolf is in such a tearing hurry that he leaves a few hours after the surgery) but, they don’t really mar the proceedings as long as you stay focused on the other suspension-of-disbelief points, including a highly artistic, samurai-style paid killer duo right in the middle of Singara Chennai. Mysskin’s victory with this film is in making the form work over content. The content is straight enough, but the choices he adopts to find a unique way to tell the story, that is, his way of articulating it, is what truly makes the film a landmark.
On one hand, it is extremely focused, with absolutely no time for any distraction – how a thriller should really be, from a Hollywood perspective. On the other hand, the flow of the story is wonderfully unpredictable, introducing highly interesting minor characters besides the two leads.
Mysskin has precious little in the name of dialogs, and when he finally does, during the monologue in a crucial scene, he delivers surprisingly well, with generous help from the film’s third lead – the film’s composer. Shree remains uni-dimensional, unfortunately, with a permanently stunned expression. Some of the passing, minor characters make a strong impact, like the beggar who comes in to help at an interesting juncture, the transgender person who has a character unlike many recent Tamil films that stereotype them in one particular manner, writer Shaji, as CB CID lead Lal, with a dogged dedication in his job and the way visually impaired people have been used in the plot… all of them seem to have limited scope, but mete out fantastic support to have us consistently invest in the story!
The film’s third lead, as I had mentioned before, is the music composer – Ilayaraja. For a story where the main lead is devoid of any emotion except a gruff, emotionless exterior (and the other with a permanent deer-in-the-headlights persona), there is absolutely no emotional connect for the viewer to invest his attention and emotions to. The crux of why whatever happening is happening comes much later, towards the end (a stroke of genius, in the way it has been handled) and by that time, you could stifle with the amount of cluelessness you are subjected to by trusting the director for almost 2+ hours to make sense. If there is one thing that holds the film together and gives the viewer something to direct his emotions towards, it is Ilayaraja’s background score.
The way it works is vastly different from other conventional background scores. Raja himself may have chosen to fill much of this film with silence, but that may have worked against the film to make it into a completely bleak, soulless thriller (not such a bad thing, but perhaps not what Mysskin had intended to make, I’m assuming). Raja fills the frames with such an emotive score that the tag of ‘Foreground Score’ seems mighty appropriate. It no doubt breaks conventional wisdom of a background score not calling out for attention, but with the same flair and purpose as say, PC Sreeram’s heightened lighting-based cinematography that was the rage starting with Agni Natchathiram. That style of cinematography was part of the narrative in that film, because such a stylized visual tone was integral for that story-telling, from Maniratnam’s point of view. If it stands out and has people noticing it separately too, then so be it. That’s the kind of score Raja delivers in Onaayum Aattukuttiyum – it stands out, while also lending itself beautifully to have you investing in the emotions behind what is otherwise a crudely violent and manic revenge drama.
As I had mentioned earlier, this film is a solid win for form over content – there’s so much flair in terms of form that almost everything Mysskin employs screams for attention – the stylized action sequences, the Samurai-styled warriors with blades/swords, instead of guns amongst others. Topping that list is what is primarily seen as a gimmick – the foreground music. Within the context of this film, it seems like a superbly intelligent choice of wordplay and the idea itself is very smart. For someone like me who prefers to consume background scores only in conjunction with something on screen (as against listening to it as a stand-alone score), this foreground score and the way it has been applied here is truly a revelation! I hadn’t listened to the score when it was released online before the film’s release, but after seeing the movie, I’m able to listen to it in isolation (away from the film) and appreciate it even better! The ‘Somebody Loves Us All’ theme, in particular, is a personal favorite, not just because it plays during the most gut-wrenching scene (the finale) of the film, but also because it fleetingly reminds me of a small phrase in Kakki Sattai’s Vaanile Thenila!
Onaiyum Aatukuttiyum is an uncompromising and powerful offering from Mysskin. His vision to create a unique experience is truly commendable. That he was able to translate exactly what he wanted without the commercial trappings… even more so! This film is our answer to all those impressive Korean crime thrillers that remained so ‘foreign’ all this while!