An Indian movie always rises to stardom, awards and critical acclaim when the plot revolves around slum dwellings and impoverished scenery. Indian cinema has always set prejudices, rules and tested patches for every genre of movie it belts out year after year. These set patterns condition the audience to expect similar lines of thought, to anticipate some elements which are to be mandatorily present in the film, to serve as a mere check-in-the-box in the heads of the viewers. Kakka Muttai transcends all those previously laid out lines, rubbishes all those frills that Slumdog Millionaire had created in the minds of the people, and serves as a perfect meal to anybody who enjoys realism in the reel prism. While Slumdog left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of most Indians, portraying the country and its people in such a demeaning light, it having won the Academy Award was just rubbing salt on our wounds. It still gave the impression that India, in the eyes of a global citizen, had to be only about the stereotyped things it was connoted to be. Here was a story that shook the paradigm on which such prejudices were woven.
Kakka Muttai (Crow’s egg) is the story of two young boys living in the slums near the Saidapet koovum (river), in the heart of Chennai, a metropolitan city in the South of India. The boys being brought up by their mother and grandmother, collect the coal that has fallen off the trains as they pass by the station. They then sell the coal and hand the money over to their mother, who is working hard to make ends meet, after her husband has been jailed (for reasons which we are unaware of). The boys have a favourite hangout spot with a large tree where at the top-most branch a crow lays her nest and the boys love eating the crow’s eggs, hence being teased as Kakka Muttai. The boys associate and take pride with the name and they come out to be the softest and most adorable boys ever to be seen in Tamil Cinema. The elder brother (Periya Kakka Muttai- Big Crow’s egg), approximately 10-12 years of age is the responsible one, taking very good care of his younger brother Chinna Kakka Muttai- Small Crow’s egg. The two boys were forced to discontinue school and hence begin to work very hard at collecting coal from the nearby train station. There, they befriend a middle-aged man Pazha-rasam (Fruit-Juice) who is a charm to watch, who is different from the prejudices created by predecessor slum-related films where it could be expected that he might try to outwit the boys or sell them or use them to beg. Pazharasam is the boys’ best friend, confidant and their philosopher. The film strikes the right chord and in an extremely upright fashion.
It is widely regarded that people from the slums are never honest or are always greedy and adopt inappropriate means to earn money. Kakka Muttai will shatter that myth and transform even the shattered pieces into butterflies. The plot revolves around Chinna Kakka Muttai and Periya Kakka Muttai’s quest to eat pizza, after the grand inauguration of an outlet (replacing their favourite hangout) near their home. The amount of money a pizza takes (it’s just Rs. 300 for us, but threee-hunndredd for a lot of people) and the effort behind earning that money, the value addition to it are all beautifully explained by the director. The humiliation slum-dwellers face, despite having money and wearing new clothes, is the harsh reality that saddens us, but something we must wake up to.
Kakka Muttai is a journey, a 120-minutes journey which, for the first time in my life of watching Indian cinema, I never wanted it to end. It taught me the value of ten rupees and the hard work that goes behind it. It taught me that being righteous in life is all that matters, and once there, we’ll get what we wanted in such grand fashion. And maybe once we get there, we may or may not like it, but we’ll still enjoy the journey nevertheless is our take-home message from this National Award winning piece of life.