"Till yesterday, we ate only when we were hungry. Who changed our nature today, that we are in search for taste?"
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Kaaka Muttai is a story about two brothers nicknamed Chinna Kaakka Muttai and Periya Kaakka Muttai, living in the slums of Chennai. With their father in jail, they had to discontinue their studies and assist their mother by working as ragpickers. When a pizza outlet is built near their slum, they become fascinated by the idea of tasting pizza. The storyline goes on to show the obstacles they encounter and discriminations they face, in their journey.
If one wants to taste the true essence of a Tamil film, then this movie is the pinnacle of it. It showcases the various problems of slum dwellers and how poverty forms a barricade for their opulent wishes. What is more beautiful is that they enjoy life even with the smallest things they experience, like drinking a crow's egg or catching a frog. In the scenes that shows the interactions between little slum boys and a higher class boy, it portrays the differences between the classes of the Indian society.
This film is director Manikandan's first feature film. Through his exquisite film-making and delightful take on slum life, he charms the viewers. He took a daring attempt to connect several social realities such as slum local politics, media sensationalism, social prejudice etc., and portray them in the most pleasant way, so that it guides people realise them without getting offended by the truth. He has sprinkled subtle messages in several scenes. To quote a few,
- Media doesn't care: There is a particular scene where a new team arrives at the slum because two children from that area had been involved in a controversy. When these two children are about to walk right in front of the camera, they are told to hurry away by a channel member, who doesn't even know who they are. In another scene, during a television debate, a logically speaking person is shut off by the anchor frequently. These scenes clearly shows the conventional media's insensitivity to the issues and over focus on coverage and TRPs.
- The Leftover Pizza and Not-Stolen Mobile: When a rich boy offers a leftover pizza to the slum boy, he refuses to take it. In another instance, they boy decides to steal a mobile phone from a train passenger but back out at the end. In both these scenes, the director tries to break down pre-conceived notions that poor children would do anything to get what they want. They have as much esteem and morality as anyone else.
- Mother's reaction and class divide: When the boys' mother learns about the slapping incident, she becomes concerned of the safety of the children rather than getting angry upon the pizza outlet supervisor. Had it been a middle class mother, anger would have been the first reaction. The director has actually brought in Maslow's hierarchy of needs where safety takes precedence over esteem. Hats off..!
Cinematography is one of the important technical aspects for an offbeat film like Kaaka Muttai and Manikandan’s camera work makes the movie even more realistic and enjoyable. Special mention to the frame where a tricycle is placed on top of a hut’s roof. The coal contained railway tracks and the long shot which covers the entire slum, are a visual treat through his lens.
Coming to the performances, the little boys Ramesh and Vignesh are the blood and skin of the movie. They have perfectly portrayed the nuances of being slum boys. Their expressions are natural and it shows that they have thoroughly enjoyed during the shoot. Iyshwarya Rajesh breathes life into the character she renders. At a point when she is in the race to shine as a lead heroine, she has to be respected for choosing the role of a mother of two kids. Ramesh Thilak and Yogi Babu provide occasional laughs with their sense of humor. While the other actors Joe Malloori, Babu Antony and the woman who played the grandmother of the boys have done a fabulous job on their part.
To sum it up, Kaaka Muttai is one of the best reality films I have watched so far. No wonder it has bagged couple of awards in National Film Festival. It has even broken the stereotype of award winning movies by blending genuine humor in the narrative. The credit in turning the Kaaka Muttai into a golden egg goes to the producers Dhanush and Vetrimaaran. Their beautiful find, Manikandan, has nailed it with his simple yet effective storytelling. Kaaka Muttai - masterpiece debut.