Music composer-actor ‘Darbuka’ Siva on turning filmmaker for his debut ‘Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee’, a high school drama that transports us back to the 1990s
Somewhere in 2013, ‘Darbuka’ Siva decided to take a break from the music scene. Ironically, it was the same year he was selected for OneBeat, an initiative of the US State Department that brings together musicians from all over the world for creative collaborations. During this period, Siva began to look inwards, rummaging through memories of his high school years. He maintains that creativity comes from memories; although there was no starting point to any of these, except for the snapshots that presented themselves.
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“It’s like a dream; you never know when it actually begins and remember only the middle part and what happens before you wake up. For me, composing a piece of music is akin to a dream. As was writing for Mudhal Nee Mudivum Nee (MNMN). It is this collection of memories that I kept going back to,” says Siva over phone, ahead of the film’s premiere on Zee5 on January 21.
Siva had the idea and flow; he knew exactly at which point the story needed to begin and where it needed to end. But all these thoughts resided in his head without a form until one day, Siva put them to paper. “Whenever I share my school memories with people, they get super stoked. I thought it would be exciting to work on the story. I kept grinding the idea before I started writing the script. MNMN is still 50% fact and 50% fiction but I won’t tell which is what,” he adds with a laugh.
Of course, there was the element of nostalgia that he wanted to reflect through his work. But Siva says he wanted to steer clear of romanticising the 90s era. “Growing up is always a fascination. I’m sure 30 years from now, someone will make a film about the 2020s,” he says, adding, “More than anything, things seemed to have been simpler back then… our sensibilities have changed now.”
Seventeen is a tricky age to cross — be it your high school sweetheart or dealing with your first heartbreak. It is that hormonal phase that prepares you for the real world, as highlighted in MNMN’s trailer. By recreating the memories he grew up with, it is safe to assume Siva was in a way preserving what was deeply personal.
He says revisiting these moments was the fun part of the writing, but the catch was to stitch them in a cohesive fashion. “For me, a very intense moment is not very different from say a romantic or funny incident. I tend to put them on the same scale. In a way, what I realised was, I kind of miss all these moments.”
Order in chaos
As a filmmaker, Siva says he learnt everything on the go on a need-to-know basis. Much like his process as a musician, which he terms bizarre, he says his filmmaking process was chaotic. “But there was an order in chaos. I did a lot of things that are not deemed conventional, like casting for example,” he says.
Right from the start, Siva was adamant about not casting stars. He wanted actors who do not come with baggages. Filmmaker Gautham Menon put out the audition announcement on Twitter, after which Siva received over 5,000 applicants. From the shortlisted 50, he picked 13 to play the primary characters.
“You go to any school, you never expect students to look a certain way right? Suresh is Suresh. I want the audience to experience this world and see the characters as they are, which made it really difficult to get into production,” says Siva.
Two months after training all the actors, mostly newcomers, Siva called his technicians and made his actors enact the entire film like a play in front of them. “Because this was my first film, I had to finish four-five scenes a day. Filmmaking, at the end of the day, is all about execution.”
In MNMN, Siva also serves as the music director. Does that come with added pressure? “It actually eased a bit of pressure,” says Siva, admitting that he did not want to be indulgent because of his dual roles as director and composer.
Time and space
- ‘Neel Koadugal’ is one song in the album that took Siva into a contemplative zone. With Bombay Jayashri’s vocals, Siva says he wanted the song to have a middle-eastern vibe to it. That is when he turned to his friend Dima El Sayed. “She recorded the song from Lebanon in the middle of a crisis. I love the sound of French as a language and Dima is fluent in French, although she is a trained Arabic singer. It was interesting to have her in a Tamil song,” he adds.
“When I make music for others, I always put my thoughts in the backseat. It is nice to get perspective from others because, if you are also the director, you just get carried away sometimes.”
The biggest takeaway for Siva was the fascination — of converting an idea into a film and seeing it materialise in an inspiring way. But Siva will fondly remember MNMN for an even better reason. He met his wife, Purva Raghunath, who plays Catherine Mersey in the film during the course of filming. “She came for the audition and made it through. We got married last year. In fact, it is inspiring how art and life collides sometimes.”
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