‘Is this a Tamil film?’ I found myself asking this question when I was watching ‘Kakka Muttai’ (crow’s egg ). I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
The story line is very simple – two slum kids desire a pizza. Do they get to eat or not is what the movie is all about.
The director, M.Manikandan, doesn’t seem to be a newbie to direction. There are subtle messages but no preaching is involved. The way the story has been filmed , the likes of Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth should cringe in shame. The two kids, Ramesh and Vignesh, have lived their roles – they are apparently from a slum it seems.
Let me narrate some scenes where I was completely floored.
‘Oru kilo Three rupees’ – the younger child says this when trying to sell the spilled over coal from the goods wagons. The sense of triumph on the child’s face when he utters the English words ‘three rupees’ is sure to bring tears to the viewer. The aspiration of the child is to speak in English and hence he often says ‘My name is Chinna Kaka Muttai’ ( my name is Crow’s Egg Jr) while he calls his elder brother ‘Periya Kaka Muttai’ (Crow’s Egg Sr ). In a land still obsessed with the belief that speaking in English means a higher strata in society, this triumphant expression of the child of ‘having arrived’ is a stark reminder about the distance that the slum dwellers need to travel to actually ‘arrive’ and be accepted into the urban mainstream.
The child’s facial expression when the tree, where the crow had its nest, is cut is bound to remain in one’s conscience for a long time. The child is sad due to two reasons.
- The crow has lost its abode
- No more crow eggs for them to get their nutrition from
The child innocently asks the elder brother where would the crow go for the night. The child has lost his only source of nourishment, the crow’s egg. However he is concerned about the safety of the crow now that the tree has been cut. Just the one line that the child speaks moves you beyond anything else any other character in the film says.
The film is also a stark reminder to the Tamil Nadu government. There are two TVs provided by the PDS ration shop while there is no stock of rice. The slum dwellers need rice more than anything else. But they are given two TV sets, free of cost, by the government. A timely message for those who want to hear.
The children want pizza more than even getting their father out of jail. And they are introduced to pizza when their favorite haunting ground is bought over by a pizza outlet. The practice of inviting film stars to open such outlets draws small children from nearby slums. But the irony is those children are not able to afford an entry into such shops.
The children’s mother, another actor with great potential, expresses her anger and agony at the pain caused by opening such not-affordable shops in the vicinity of slums – all with meager words. She is not against the shop but expresses her despair. Kudos to the female actor.
The two brothers strike a friendship with a well to do child who lives in a gated community. And every time they interact, there do so across the steel gate barrier. The steel gate signifies the class divide and that part has been brilliantly conceptualized. I was just amazed at this.
There is a drunkard who deals in stolen goods. And once he is drunk, he speaks about class divide, the rule of the Maratha warrior Sivaji and the like. But when he is sober, he becomes a practical person who does his daily chore of dealing in stolen goods. A fantastic portrayal of the futility of such rhetorical speeches of the communist kind.
I am not sure if the depiction of DBS Bank in the background when the children think of entering the ‘City Center Mall’ was intentional. Even if it was not, I feel the logo of the Singaporean bank in Chennai where two slum children contemplate to enter a mall speaks volumes about the rich-poor divide. Kudos again.
There is a sarcastic depiction of the media as well. The lady reporter is talking about the two slum children in front of the camera ( with the slum as the background ). The two children walk by and are shooed away from the scene. Nothing portrays the insensitive attitude of the media than this one scene. Yet another is when a TV debate on the children is interrupted midway twice once for a commercial break and another for relaying the scene when the children are hit by the pizza shop employee.
Finally, when the younger child says that the shop is cold, referring to the air-conditioning in the shop, serves as a hammer strike on our conscience. The child has never experienced air-conditioning in his life.
The ending where the child compares the pizza with his late grand mother’s dosai and delivers his judgement – if you would have watched the movie thus far, chances are, you would not be able to see the child’s expression as your eyes would have been flooded with tears- is a master piece.
Tamil cinema is not dead, yet.