Kaaka Muttai

Director: M. Manikandan | Year: 2014 | Language: Tamil

(Spoiler alert: I have almost told the whole story of the film. But then you aren’t really planning to see this, are you? If you are, then I suggest you read only the first three and the last four paragraphs.)

It was to get rid of the bad taste of ‘Belasheshe’ that I sought out a Tamil film and I was lucky to have hit upon the delicious ‘ Kaaka Muttai’ ( Crow’s Egg).

Right from the first scene when we encounter the younger of the two brothers who live with their mother and grandmother (their father is in jail) peeing in his sleep and the trail of liquid spreading across the room, we know this is going to be a special film.

Kaaka Muttai

The two brothers call themselves ‘ Chinna Kaaka Muttai’ and ‘Periay Kaaka Muttai’  and have an adult friend  Pazharasam who loiters around the railway track and helps them pick up stray pieces of coal which they sell at three rupees a kilo. Little everyday things happen. They climb up a tree , pick up some bird’s eggs and eat then raw. Their home gets a TV. Their playground is sold off and a pizza joint comes up there, inaugurated by one of their slum boys who has made it good as an actor of sorts.

There life kinds of acquires an urgency of purpose when they see an advertisement for a juicy pizza on the TV and want to taste it. Their yearning for it is whetted by their encounter with the pizza delivery boy passing through their slum who lets them smell a pizza in return for a bit of help with the direction to the delivery address.  They collect a  colourful flyer with a phone number for ordering and the price of Rs. 300 prominently displayed. ‘Rs.300!’ grandma exclaims and sends them with Rs. 10 instead to the vegetable shop to get some tomatoes and capsicum. It’s a delight to watch her as she goes about trying to approximate a pizza by cutting the capsicum and tomatoes into the right shapes  as shown in the pizza flyer and placing them on the dosa batter on the tawa. The boys say it doesn’t smell like pizza. Grandma says how can dosa batter smell like pizza. ‘ Dosa!’

They get to a more plentiful source of railway coal and start saving money seriously. They dial the number given on the pizza flyer. ‘ What’s the address?’, the pizza guy asks. Address? Do they have one? They ask their grandma. Girinagar something, she says. That obviously won’t do. They try to go to the pizza place itself, but the security won’t let them in. Having money isn’t enough. They must dress like the kids who are allowed in. They find ways of procuring some hep clothes. But this time not only are the barred from entry, the elder one is beaten up squarely by the manager. And what is worse, their friends from the slum witness their humiliation. One of them even records it on his cell phone.

In the meanwhile their grandma dies, and they give their  pizza money  for her funeral. But one thing leads to another. And they end up being invited by the PizzaStop owner for a royal treat of free pizza, welcomed with band baaja bandobast and media in full attendance.

So how do they like the pizza? No big deal apparently. They kind of prefer their grandma’s dosa. They return to their home in the slum. Life goes on. And yes, the younger one has stopped his bed wetting.

The film is so outrageously funny and entertaining one does not get time to think about the injustice of all and the sad lives these slum kids live.  But again, the brothers are not sad. Anything but. They are so full of life, taking every challenge with a gung ho spirit. Their enjoyment of eating the raw bird’s egg, or paddling on the slum puddle in a makeshift raft made from some plastic crates, or their pride in saving money through hard work…is so contagious.

Their performance is so natural you have to see it to believe it. And so are the performances by all the supporting cast, especially the mother played with a quite dignity showing a myriad little emotions with just a look . Her body language conveys her world weariness lit up by her warm affection for the two lively kids.

But what lifts up the film many notches higher that what the storyline suggests is the debutant director M . Manikandan’s ’s vision. His observation of life in all its detail – from the shape of the capsicum the grandma cuts for her dosa-cum-pizza to the holes in the ten rupee notes someone gives them – fills you with a love of life that triumphs over all the poverty and squalor the family lives in.  (I love the scene where the mother is washing clothes, one of the brother is throwing them one by one up to the top of a tile roof where the other brother is standing to catch them and lay them on a rope to dry. The suddenly a plane flues by and the attention of the brother on the roof is drawn by it and he misses catching the item of clothing and is hit by it on his face.) You share their familial love and bonding and the sense of optimism and their sporting engagement with the business of living.

This is in a way Pather Panchali set in an urban slum, with siblings as innocent and as lovable as Durga and Apu, their story told with bouncy music and quirky humor instead of sad sitar strains and poetic visuals. But it is no less poignant for it.

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