Tamil director Darbuka Siva, whose film ‘Mudhal Nee Mudhavam Nee’ started airing on Zee5 this weekend, in freewheeling conversation with The Federal
We all have our stories about school, first love, and goofy pranks that evoke a smile or a grimace. Darbuka Siva, a famous music producer, actor, radio jockey and now director based in Chennai, walks this nostalgic path in his first Tamil film Mudhal Nee Mudhavam Nee.
The high school coming-of-age drama, which landed on Zee5 this weekend, is refreshing as the cast involves a cast of new young actors, who seem comfortable on celluloid even though they’re is their first film. Set in the middle-class milieu of North Madras in the 1990s, the film follows the lives of a group of teenagers studying at a Christian school.
There is a love story here between an aspiring musician Vinoth (Kishen Das) and his classmate Rekha (Meeta). The scenes between them are treated with finesse. There’s Vinoth’s friend who proposes to different girls at school, there’s a sex ed class that drives the boys wild and the school vamp, the eternal ‘ Veronica’, who has her sights set on the school’s cute little boy – Vinoth – and the sarcastic Catherine who knows everything, talks to people but has a sad story behind her bravado. The film garnered good reviews, with the exception of criticism regarding a lackluster second half.
In a conversation with The Federal, te Darbuka Siva, 39, who has spent most of his professional life in the music business, talks about how “transparent” it was to change tracks and take the director’s baton. “It was not planned but a smooth move”, explains the former RJ of Radio Mirchi.
“I’ve always drifted off to various places that seemed interesting to me as an artist. I never limited myself to just being a musician or an actor. (Siva had a leading role in the 2015 Tamil thriller “Rajathandhiram”). All I need is a canvas, any creative medium would do,” he explains.
And, Siva seemed to have found many different platforms to express his creative energies. After starting his performing career in 2002 with “Oikyotaan”, a group experimenting with Bengali Baul music, he founded “Yodhakaa” – a contemporary Indian classical music group in 2005 which worked with ancient Sanskrit texts. At Radio Mirchi in 2007, he hosted a research-based show on traditional Tamil folk music and even created a musical travelogue show for television.
In September 2013, Siva was selected as artist-in-residence for OneBeat, a US State Department project, which he describes as nothing less than “transformational”. He took part in the nearly two-month music residency program at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Florida, along with 25 other musicians from around the world, including rapper Kemba from the Bronx and musicians from Palestine, Israel and the United States. ‘South Africa.
This residency was not only inspiring, it took him out of his comfort zone. He learned tolerance and respect for others. “This particular residency I did in 2013 gave me direction and resolved my questions about the meaning and purpose of my art. It was a place of transformation and meditation for me. From the amazing stories I heard from these musicians, I learned that even though we speak different languages and our skin tones are different, what we are looking for is similar. We need enthusiasm for all the art forms we do,” says Siva.
And, he got a lot of that excitement he craved doing Mudhal Nee Mudhavum Nee (MNMN). “Although I’m relieved it’s over, I enjoyed every moment of the filmmaking process,” Siva shares.
For him, “cinema is a complete medium that has the magic power to bring together all my sensibilities – music, sound, images and bring them together in a story”, he says with poetic emphasis.
“I didn’t go to film school,” he says proudly. (Hasn’t Quentin Tarantino said, “When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, ‘no, I went to the cinema’)
Fascinated by cinema, he learned about cinema by watching “many and many films”. Once he became a musician, he had the opportunity to travel and saw many films in foreign languages, he says. He is particularly fond of European cinema, his favorites being British directors Mike Leigh (secrets and lies, Mr Turner etc) and Ken Loach (sorry, We missed you, Me Daniel Blake etc.), Woody Allen, Fellini and Bergman.
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The secret is that he has always been a “watcher and learner”. “I’ve never had a teacher even for my music, I’m self-taught. I hear and I play. It’s the same with movies, for me watching movies was my film school,” he says.
There were, however, challenges that Siva had to overcome while making his first film. Luckily, he found a producer who believed in his process of hiring new faces, running acting workshops, and grooming the actor like you do in the theater. But after finishing filming for MNME in 2019, the pandemic hit.
“We had no idea how to end the film. It was a challenge and this situation made us anxious. There were times when the pictures were lying around somewhere and we couldn’t get them. Two years of work barely dragged on, and it had to be maintained with care. Even if a hard drive was corrupted, it would have become a major problem for us,” says Siva.
But his producer Sameer Bharat Ram, who encourages independent films without stars, and the OTT platform Zee5, helped him bring the film to the screen. Interestingly, Zee5, who is carving out a niche for broadcasting quirky, low-budget regional films like “Malaysia to Amnesia”, “Chithirai Sevvanam”, “Blood Money”, etc., loved his script.
“We tried other OTT platforms, but they lacked reasons as to why they didn’t want to release the film. It doesn’t fit into our schedule, they would say. I don’t mind that they give me reasons related to my creativity, but it is clear that they only want films made with stars,” says Siva.
Really, cinema is about 50% creative and the other 50%, especially for an independent film with new faces, is trying to get it out there, he adds, praising Zee5 for making films “purely content-based”.
Watch Malayalam and Telugu cinema which strikes a good balance between star films and good content films. “When they release a ‘star’ movie, they do it with a party. But they also released great content. Here, we are all obsessed with star films, but I really believe that today no star can make a film with terrible content, even if he is a big star”, he underlines.
Films rooted in a very local milieu like his MNMN are also popular because they resonate differently with people. “People love what I call ‘event’ movies, but they also watch little local movies that are close to their hearts,” he says. Yet what Siva says may be true, but critics still write tons trying to analyze why the Hindi version of Pushpa turned into a money-spinning cricket drama, 83.
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Art meets life
Interestingly, Siva met her life partner while filming for MNMN. Purva Raghunath, who auditioned for and landed the role of Catherine Mersey in the film, became his wife last year. “There’s no pattern or anything logical in finding the love of your life,” says Siva when asked about the ‘high school sweetheart’ romance as the ultimate love as he calls it. did in his movie MNMN.
“It’s very random, the chances of finding someone can happen in high school or like me, it can happen when you’re 39. When I met Purva and got to know her, I knew it was the right person for me. Some of my friends who married their school sweethearts are still happy, so you can’t generalize these things. You never know where or when you might find love of your life,” he says.
Choosing his MNMN film title from the song “Maruvaarthai” which he had composed for Gautam Menon’s film, “Enai Noki Paayum Thota”, he says that this song was particularly special for him.
“The song ‘Maruvaarthai’ had received unconditional love that no other song had. Gautam Menon released it without revealing the name of the musical director calling the person Mr X and people loved the song unconditionally. There is a lot of groupism in the music scene, if people like a music director they would like a song even if it’s not good so it was a social experiment we tried and people loved the song for its merit and not for the name of the person behind it,” he reveals, adding that he loves Thamarai’s poetry.
Gautam Menon is a great source of inspiration for him. He had learned a lot creating music for himself and loves his commitment to filmmaking. Menon has also been an integral part of MNMN since the concept stage, he reveals. “I pitched the story idea to him and the first thing he asked was if he could do the movie. That was a huge compliment to me, but there was a lot of my real life that I had wanted to recreate. But at every step of the movie, he was there and he also helped me bring the movie to the public,” he shares.
When asked if MNMN is about his own high school girlfriend, Siva avoids answering this question. “If I reveal that, then the 50% fact and 50% fiction that is how I describe the movie will be torn down,” he laughs. Whether it’s an ode to his high school sweetheart or not, his classmates are clearly confused. “I put three real-life characters into one and made it hard for them to figure out who I’m referring to,” Siva signs.