Kaaka Muttai is a Little Gem

They call themselves periya/chinna Kaaka Muttai (big and small crow eggs). These playful children from a slum in the middle of the city want to dress up like well-off children so that they can gain entry to a pizza outlet that wont let them in. Two kids of the same age who come out of a shopping mall want to eat street food, which they are not allowed to. They sell the new clothes that their dad had bought for them to these poor boys for some cash so that they can eat their favorite pani poori. Meanwhile, the pizza outlet security guard slapping the two poor children has triggered a huge political and human rights debate on news television. A TV crew shooting a follow-up story on the issue with the slum as the background asks the Kaaka muttai duo who crossed their camera field to move away without realizing that they were the central characters in the issue. Finally, the little brothers who work hard for months together and suffer a lot of humiliation and hardships just to eat a slice of pizza realizes that all their efforts were futile as the dosa that their grandma made for them was tastier. Paradoxes like these are galore in Kaaka Muttai, the critically acclaimed Tamil film that has tasted big commercial success surprising trade pundits.

Kakka-Muttai-Still-1This Dhanush-Vetrimaaran-Fox Star production had enthralled film festival audiences around the globe and collected multiple awards before its commercial release in the country on June 5th. Its unprecedented success in drawing enthusiastic crowds beyond the typical multiplex audience and lovers of parallel cinema confirms how good storytelling can blur the lines between art and commercial cinema. Believe it or not, this little film is running in packed houses even in the 4th week of its release!

The little slum children played by Vignesh and Ramesh, and their hardworking and loving mother, played by Aishwarya Rajesh (the charming, expressive face in ‘Attakathi’ and ‘Rummy’ takes up a deglamorized role of a mother of two) will win your heart with the stunning honesty they infuse into their characters and the fine method acting that we rarely see in our films these days.

Director Manikandan’s dream debut with honest, confident and uncompromised way of narration is a valuable addition to the little gems Tamil cinema produces every once in a while. You may have seen feel-good children’s films such as Stanley Ka Dabba, I am Kalam and Hawaa Hawaai, which handled the ‘poverty and dreams’ theme, but Kaaka Muttai is much more than a kids’ film. In fact, with its deft handling of the multiple, connected issues such as poverty, exploitation, and the dreams of children with no means, its multi-layered treatment, and its honest characters played by actors who live their roles, takes it to the coveted league of serious political cinema.

The only parallel to Kaaka Muttai that I have seen in recent years was Karzan Kader’s Kurdish film Bekas (2012), in which two orphaned brothers who make a living using their street-smart ways hatch a plan to cross over to America after being fascinated by a Superman movie that they watch through a hole in a wall.

Without being preachy and refusing to be pretentious, Kaaka Muttai realistically examines the many contradictions in life, how a ‘non-event’ in the life of the poor is milked by vested interests, how small the poor dream even while staring at great opportunities, and makes you revisit the imagery of slums and the stereotypes connected to slums that mainstream cinema has planted in our minds, such as crime, relationships, quality of life, and the dreams of its people. If you miss this, you have lost the chance to see one of the best works of Indian cinema in recent years.

Manikandan who has wielded the camera besides writing the script and directing the film, has captured the soul of the slums by using black and dark shades effectively to reinforce the class conflict and urban poverty that is often underplayed in the age of globalisation. The appeal of the story was lifted immensely by G V Prakash’s tunes and backgroud music. The film is a fine tribute to its national-award winning editor, T E Kishore, who died at a young age, while he was editing the next film of Dhanush and Vetrimaaran.

If you have early adolescent children, Kaaka Muttai is an ideal film that you should watch with them. The experience will be much better if they can either understand Tamil or follow English subtitles. This is an educational field trip that your child will cherish and love to talk about. My 7-year old has been asking questions and narrating whatever little he understood from the film ever since we stepped out of the theater!