Sunday, June 7, 2015

Kaaka Muttai aka Crow's Egg [dir. Manikandan]

Writer-director-DOP Manikandan's debut feature in Tamil mixes the grittiness of De Sica inspired neo-realism with the feel-good factor necessary for any film aiming for an audience bigger than the art-house crowd. Like most efforts in this category, it's not as fine-edged as it should be, and at nearly 2 hours runs, or rather trots gently a good deal longer than it should, but it has some solid charm as an offbeat entertainer.
One of the interesting elements in this film is how most major characters are not given an official name - they either have a nickname or an appellation that answers to their role in the film. Our 'heroes' are two kids (masters Ramesh and Vignesh) that call themselves Periya (big) Kaaka Muttai and Chinna (small) Kaaka Muttai. Their mother and grandma are only referred to as such. One of their close friends is an adult railway employee nicknamed Pazharasam (banana juice/soup? The subtitles translate it as fruit juice).
As critic Baradwaj Rangan puts it in his effusive and detailed review, the wheels on which the film turns is desire and aspiration. The kids live in an urban slum and dream of the consumer goods they can't afford - their aspiration is given the shape of pizza, which they have only seen in advertisements. But even when they scrimp and save for the money to buy it, no outlet will deliver to their locality, and they are rudely turned back from the restaurant for not coming from the expected strata of clientele. Their mother (Ishwarya Rajesh exuding a wonderful every-woman glow in her deglamorized avatar) aspires to get her imprisoned husband home, trudging from fee-grabbing lawyer to corrupt politician. There's a refreshing non-stereotype mother-in-law who sympathizes with the plight of her son's wife and in her ingenious way tries to assuage her grandsons' desire for pizza by dishing out a home-made version of it. The movie is full of little touches which delineate the character of these and other parts in the film with gentle observation.
The social critique is managed without excess heavy-handedness, and the metaphors don't get too cringing - for instance, the kid's playground (and the crow's nest bearing tree it contains) is torn down for a development complex which is likely to house the sort of building the pizza place is situated in, but the script doesn't box your ears with the irony. The humor arises organically from the situations. The look of the film is authentic, the actors merge into their roles, there is some striking juxtaposition of visuals and sound. Oh, and there are no item breaks. The only problem is that the script is a little too episodic and not reined in tightly enough, which leads to loose elements and contrived moments in the narrative. I certainly do not grudge the film its happy ending, but it could have been better written, instead of seeming like the writer had run out of ideas.
So, yes, flaws and all, but this is a charming film that people should certainly give a look at, and not just Tamil people (At least in Mumbai multiplex screens, English subtitles are provided).

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