When I was in Class 2, I saw my classmate having something called Maggi during the lunch break. I went home and told my mother that I wanted that thread-like thing that my friend had in her tiffin box and even showed how she ate it.The next day, I opened my tiffin box to see something that looked like noodles but it wasn’t Maggi for sure. It didn’t look nor taste like it. My mother had deceived me with a healthy rice sevai. She never made Maggi for a long time at home as she believed strongly that it wasn’t good for health. Before you think that this post has my two cents about Maggi, let me tell you that this incident sprang up in my mind as I watched debutant director M Manikandan’s Kaakka Muttai (Crow’s Egg) that came out two weeks back.
There is a scene in Kaakka Muttai, where the two boys from the slum, while talking to their grandmother, keep insisting on having a pizza, flashing the flyer of a pizza outlet that has opened shop in their locality. She asks them to buy a few vegetables so that she can make it for them. She then slices the tomatoes, capsicums and onions as shown in the flyer and evenly places them out on a freshly spread out batter of dosa. The kids taste it and know they have been duped and resolve to find a way to have a pizza by themselves.
Once, when we were at a South Indian restaurant, a lady at the table next to us ordered a vegetable uthappam and when her son asked if this was pizza, she thought for a second and said, “Yeah! This is Indian pizza.”
There is a joy of discovering life in Kaakka Muttai. The whole movie is laced with numerous sarcastic takes on the current social and political scenario in the country. You get free colour television sets at ration shops but rice and pulses are still scarce. Protest marches are guided more by a Rs 100 note and biriyani than anything else. Lofty ideals are less important than ensuring that you have enough to eat to survive, not even live, if you know what that actually means. Our society is an amalgamation of many clubs. It’s not enough to have money to enter a fine dining place. You need to look rich too. But in the middle of all that, not bothered by the social commentaries of the filmmaker, the kids – Periya Kaakka Muttai and Chinna Kaakka Muttai – are out there, trying to find the road that will lead them to their pizza and in the end, it doesn’t even matter.
At the surface level, Kaakka Muttai might be a movie about the journey of two slum dwelling kids who are out to taste their first pizza, something that they are willing to work hard for. But it is also, as we may realise, a story of our own lives, about people who are in search of something that seems exotic to us when we do not have it but cease to find it alluring once we have it.
There is a reflection of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in Kakka Muttai, by which I do not suggest in any way that the latter was a rip off from the masterpiece. It is an inspiration in the sense that a work of art always can be. Somewhere you can see the two brothers of Kaakka Muttai discover life the way the siblings Apu and Durga do in Pather Panchali. In both these films, the mothers of these kids hope for a better tomorrow even as they try to meet the requirements of their kids in the best possible way. In Pather Panchali, Apu and Durga’s father Harihar is oblivious to the complexities of problems that they face, partly because of his naivety and partly because he can’t help it and in Kaakka Muttai, the father cannot help as he is serving a sentence in jail. And yes, there is the benevolent old aunt in Pather Panchali and the grandmother in Kaakka Muttai, who are blamed by the women of the home for spoiling the children. Yet, the kids strike a very beautiful bond with them.
Yet, there isn’t any melancholic air about Manikandan’s film, unlike Ray’s masterpiece. It celebrates life at every turn so much so that you enjoy all the big and small moments of the protagonists through their eyes and not for a moment does the filmmaker want you to express any pity for them. Yes, the kids Vignesh and Ramesh have delivered a performance that is beyond words and have won a well-deserved National award. So have the other actors, most notably Iyshwarya Rajesh, as the mother of the two kids. But this is a high moment for Tamil cinema and let us celebrate it, for a work like this doesn’t come way too often. You might have seen children, slums and their lives in Salaam Bombay and Slumdog Millionaire. But unlike them, Kaakka Muttai is not self-indulgent and doesn’t even try to take itself too seriously. That’s what makes it a gem worth more than a watch.