Kaaka Muttai: Of silly desires and urban poverty

Award-winning films have a troubled reputation amongst the general film audience. These films are brushed aside as ‘high-brow’ and ‘slow’.

Debutant filmmaker M. Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai backed by Fox Star India, which recently won two National Awards, breaks from these imagined prejudices: Kaaka Muttai is a highly entertaining film, with a spotlight on poverty.

Genre: Drama
Director: M. Manikandan
Cast: Ramesh, Vignesh, Iyshwarya Rajesh
Storyline: Two poor kids want to eat a slice of pizza and confront a society which doesn’t let them have it.

We understand poverty mostly as a statistic: that 827 million Indians live on less than Rs. 20 a day. But, can you fathom how one could crawl through an entire day? Kaaka Muttai is that film, which provides a panoramic view of poverty: where the self-assurance that ‘if you work hard you will succeed in life’ doesn’t make any sense; where people’s homes end, and when they are forced to sleep next to the toilet, only separated by cloth screen; that everyone — kids, young, middle aged and old — have to perform hard labour to scrape through the day; that the politicians speaking the language of emancipation and social justice often exploit the poor for profits; that they cannot escape being marked as ‘slum kids’ or as ‘lower caste’ by the society, and face violence as a part of daily life.

The oppressive nature of poverty and economic exclusion is examined through the eyes of two endearingly smart kids, who simply call themselves, ‘Periya Kaaka Muttai’ and ‘Chinna Kaaka Muttai’.

The entire film is set in motion after the kids, taken in by celebrity endorsement; develop a desire to eat pizza, unquestionably a symbol of capitalism in India, to discuss the problem of urban poverty, social exclusion, economic apartheid and deprivation.

The filmmaker delivers sequence after sequence — filled with nuance and sensitivity — about everything that affects lives of the poor. A number of characters that we enjoyed in Ranjith’s Madras, the exploitative politician, hard-working mother and violence-hating youth are to be found in this film as well.

After the brilliant Kutram Kadithal, directed by Brahma Nathan, another National Award-winning film releasing on June 19, Kaaka Muttai is yet another film that boldly criticises the media for putting profits before people, for the manner in which it reports people living on the margins.

To its credit, it places a rather nuanced criticism that there is no sustained reporting on how economic exclusion could easily lead young people into a vicious circle of crime and violence. Rather, they need to do something so drastic to even get some prominence in media. This stark reality is visually documented with a single sequence where a television reporter and her cameraperson ask the brothers, who are walking on the bridge overseeing the Cooum, to move out of the field of the camera and not block the view, without realising that these two kids are the story that they are chasing.

M. Manikandan’s effort to depict what it means to live in poverty is much-needed in our society. This could well be the story of the small girl, who we have learnt to ignore as she taps on our car window to sell a paint workbook. This is a film, which reminds us that they too are a part of this society and deserve opportunities that so many of us take for granted.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 11:16:55 AM |

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