Director Darbuka Siva talks to TNM about his feature debut “Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee,” and also shares insights into his journey as a musician and composer.
The recently released Tamil coming of age movie, Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee evokes a feeling of nostalgia. In 1990s North Madras, some scenes such as a group of friends visiting Spencer Plaza, young people listening to music in a cassette store, and classroom antics took the audience back to their childhood. This may be the reason why Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee has been the subject of much discussion on social media since its premiere on the Over-the-top (OTT) platform Zee5 on January 21st.
Darbuka Siva makes his directorial debut with Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee. He started his career as an independent musician and rose to fame after composing the popular Tamil romantic track “Maruvaarthai” for the movie Enai Noki Paayum Thota. In an interview with TNM, Darbuka Siva talks about the casting choices and the script of his first feature film Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, and also shares information about his journey as a musician.
Did you expect this kind of reception for your film? Do you think it appealed to audiences because of the nostalgia it evokes?
I don’t ardently follow everything that happens online, but I am aware of the reaction the film has received. I knew a certain audience would like the film, but I didn’t expect so many people to like it. I don’t know if it’s possible to generalize and say that a particular type of film works, because what type of content works is a mystery.
But when it comes to Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee, I guess people liked that it was a breath of fresh air and didn’t follow the visual grammar that so many other movies follow. For example, there are no heroic opening scenes or dramatic romantic parts. I think people liked the fact that it was organic.
Vinoth’s character arc is surprisingly similar to your own life and career. How did you shape his character?
The characters had to be endearing. Some parts were inspired by people I met, and additional layers were added in others. Vinoth and especially his career may be similar to mine, but all the characters have a part of me. Writers tend to create characters that mirror their own lives in some way. But at the same time, a character like Catherine is very different from me. I had to imagine how a person with these traits would act in a school in North Madras in the 90s.
Have you considered MNMN like an OTT movie? Were you worried about its performance or success on OTT?
When I started the film, I didn’t wonder if it was going to end up in theaters or on OTT. If I had started thinking about it, I might have focused more on customizing the movie to the medium and it would have lost its authenticity.
Producers, directors, and platforms try to figure out what kind of content works well with audiences to decide what kind of projects they should sign on to. Research is also underway on this subject. But I’m not interested in relying on statistics or analysis. I only work on projects that I am passionate about or that I will be proud of.
MNMN was also risky because it’s a low-budget movie full of nostalgia. I knew its success depended on factors like when it was released, how people received the film, and it was a matter of luck. As artists, we sometimes have to take these risks.
How did the casting go ? Why did you choose not to tell the actors the whole scenario?
I preferred to have rookie actors on board because I felt audiences would come with certain expectations or preconceived ideas if it featured known actors. Additionally, not all of the actors were reportedly willing to spend time in pre-shoot workshops or appear onscreen without makeup.
As for the script, I wanted it to be as real as possible. In life, especially when someone is in school, he will not know what awaits him or what he will do in the future. Likewise, while listening to the story, the actors knew little about their characters. They had no idea how the reunion sequences were going to play out as they filmed for the school segment.
There are moving scenes in the film where dialogue is cut out and music is heard in the background. As a filmmaker and music composer, did you deliberately create these scenes like that?
The scene where Vinoth runs to Rekha’s house and begs to take him back was premeditated. I didn’t want any dialogue because everything that needed to be said had already been said and the audience would have seen what the characters are going through at the time. I brought music because it elevates the emotions in the scene.
But generally, I’m careful not to let the musician in me take over. It’s only when the dialogue no longer naturally matches the scene that I use the music to convey the depth of the emotions.
Director Darbuka Siva
You were the composer of the film’s music Rocky, how was the experience?
Rocky was almost a challenge because it wasn’t in my comfort zone. When I started working on it, it was far from the world I had imagined but it was interesting to imagine the kind of songs that would inhabit Rocky. Director Arun Matheswaran had a very specific idea of the music he wanted and the relationship between sounds and images to be created.
You said Mr X was more of a social experiment because people praise a not-so-great song if the composer is well-known. As someone who has largely worked as an independent musician, do you think the industry provides opportunities for artists who are not from movie families?
People who come from movie families or are part of the fraternity have their first opportunity earlier than others, it’s true. But ultimately, it’s their work that speaks. Social media has also played a huge role because years ago the only way for musicians or actors to look for work was through shows or auditions. People can now use Instagram reels to show off their talent. I saw how people looked at someone’s Instagram profile and called them with opportunities.
Independent musicians spoke about the lack of mainstream opportunities. Do you think the boundaries between film music and independent music are blurring now? Are there any musicians you are looking forward to working with?
The configuration and structure of the music industry is different in India compared to the west. Although music is important here, it acts as a complementary industry that revolves around movies. We have theater and an independent music scene, but it’s a niche. This is one of the reasons why it also takes time for independent artists to find outlets.
In the freelance space, things don’t happen when you’re not collaborating. We come up with ideas first and then see where it takes us, but the film industry doesn’t work that way and the music has to fit into the vision of the project.
As for me collaborating with independent artists, I constantly try to get them on board. Lebanon-based poet and singer Dima El Sayed was part of MNMN. As soon as we get into films, we start working with the same group of people. I want to change that and push the boundaries.
You have experimented with different styles of music like Bengali Baul, contemporary classical and Tamil folk. Are there any specific genres you would like to explore in the future?
Music opened my mind and my sensibility. When I was a freelance musician, I traveled a lot and had the opportunity to meet people from various cultural backgrounds. All the influences and inspirations creep in unconsciously when I make music. I would like to bring elements of South American and African musical styles to my compositions.