Right from his first movie ‘Chithiram Paesudhadi’, Mysskin has always been an interesting director to look forward to. Be it the riveting ‘Anjathey’, the Kikujiro inspired ‘Nanadalala’ , the revenge saga ‘Yuddham Sei’ or the critically panned superhero attempt of ‘Mugamoodi’ one has to give it to him for his attempts to establish a unique stamp for himself. His films have generally been a heady cocktail of innovative camera, soaring musical scores, edgy execution, philosophical leanings and a liberal dose of Korean and Japanese inspiration. So what kind of an outing is ‘Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum’? How much of Mysskin does it have? Is it a good comeback after the brickbats he received for ‘Mugamoodi’? These are the questions we will try to answer here.
‘Onaayum Aattukkuttiyum’ or OA for short starts with a simple opening credit list consisting of a bunch of producers, including Mysskin’s own newly floated ‘Lone Wolf’ production house. The only other person the opening credits acknowledge is Maestro Ilaiyaraaja for his foreground music(as opposed to the usual term of background music) and there are damn good reasons why that is done. As regards to the story let me keep it very simple. A random medical college student Chandran (Shri) comes across a grievously injured stranger lying on the road. Chandran runs from pillar to post to get the bullet injured stranger treated, but given how inconsiderate society is, he doesn’t get any timely help. Forced to take matters in his own hands, he quickly performs a surgery on the stranger and saves him from certain death. But Chandran’s complications start when he realizes the next day that the stranger has ran away and police knocks his doors charging him of saving and providing asylum to a serial killer and encounter survivor.
From then on Chandran’s fate gets intertwined with that of the killer Wolf and over the next night in Chennai we are treated to a chain of ‘cat-and mouse’ chases between Wolf and his enemies, both legal and illegal ones. Why is everyone chasing Wolf? With so many chasing him, why does he not take the route of surrendering to the cops? Is there more than meets the eye? These are the questions which are answered over the next 2 hours (after the initial sequences setting the context up).
OA is clearly an event and sequence driven movie as opposed to a plot driven one. It does not have a dense story line. For those familiar with Korean revenge and redemption sagas, you clearly know where the inspirations for this movie come from. But what clearly sets this movie apart is the conviction in execution. One of the most important things in a thriller is tension. The key devices Mysskin uses to this effect are music and camera. Right from the first scene when he shocks you with a very unconventional angle to show the wounded stranger on the road, the camera work is so good that you first notice and then stop noticing it as it is actually not as much a device but very much an element of the story being told . Some examples being the lighting and composition on the Madhya Kailash area and railway station shots, the movements in the fight sequence outside the temple or the accurate lighting in the cemetery sequences these are all just ‘drop in the ocean’ examples to illustrate the brilliance.
I really do not want to be the millionth person boring you with the billionth instance of praise on Ilaiyaraaja’s BGM skills. But what to do, I have duties to discharge. Again very much like the camera, the best part about the BGM is you first sit up and notice and then forget about it as the sights and sounds are inseparable from OA the product. But just to quote an example, just notice how the number and intensity of violins go up and down in the first half an hour. Literally small things like Chandran frantically going around town for help in his bike, begging with hospital staff or arguing with a doctor are all clearly delineated by specific BGM strands which take a character of their own. Another sequence when music rapidly changes to reflect changing moods is the whole cemetery piece where there is a frantic pace of happenings.
How much ever a great job is done using technical aids, a thriller won’t stand without thrilling set pieces. The movie abounds in scenes, sequences and sometimes even frames of such excellence. It has a clear set of key scenes which bind the narrative together. There is the initial rescue piece of Wolf, the subsequent torture of Shri, the step-by-step assembling of a family hidden in multiple locations (which can further be broken down into mother, kid and father sequences) , before the cemetery pre-climax and the basement climax. Hence the approach to the screenplay is very clinical. Performances are all very measured, especially the ones of Mysskin, who hardly speaks till the last few reels, Shri who most of the time emotes with his eyes and the actor who comes in as officer Lal who particularly shines in one confrontation with the Commissioner.
Some of my favorite scenes were a) The outstanding one in the Commissioner office where all parties involved were supremely hyper yet totally natural b) The Chandran kidnapping scene where an encounter attempt goes awry c) The brilliant scene outside the temple replete with a classic Mysskin style blade flight d) The father rescue scene where multiple things go wrong at once and e) the initial part of the cemetery scene which creates lasting guilt in Shri’s mind. That I think is a considerable number of scenes to give a thriller very favorable rating. In addition to that there are many sparks of brilliance like the shot where Shri gets queasy looking at a cop and changes seat, the one where he quickly worships God before going to the train or the best moment of the movie when three dying cops say ‘Karthare’, ‘Muruga’ and ‘Sir’ in quick succession out of fear.
The movie is surely not faultless. In hindsight there do seem to be a thrill too many or a scene too many. The movie could have been shortened by at least 10 minutes. But though as a cynic I have a complaint as a critic I do not know where that would have been possible. The innocent kid after a couple of scenes could come across as jarring to some. Mysskin’s breakdown in the cemetery was a mixed bag to me. It was a unique way of narrating a flashback but it is a bit OTT compared to how crisp the rest of the movie is. The cops in the movie are continuously shown in poor light. They are always late to the party, bent on saving their ass and scared to death. Barring the character Lal, the rest of them are portrayed in a pretty one-dimensional manner.
Even with these glitches, one cannot debate the fact that OA thrills in large measure, has an outstanding first half and showcases Mysskin back in full form as a very individualistic film maker with a heavy grip on the technical aspects of film making. Given the slightly ordinary year so far, it is surely the Tamil film of 2013 for me and ranks high up with the best I have seen in the last few years. A 3.5 on 5 given the slightly stricter rating standards I follow these days ?