South Stream: M Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai

Kaaka Muttai is streaming on Hotstar.

Kaaka Muttai is a film set in the slums of north Chennai, the hunting ground for blockbuster stories of Vetri Maran and Dhanush. This film is jointly produced by the director-actor duo and was helmed by then newcomer, M Manikandan. This film is about a boy with temper issues and his younger brother with a disarming smile. It follows their struggles to secure their object of desire as they are willing to undergo a great amount of hardship to achieve it, which is a pan of freshly baked pizza.

The movie opens with a young boy, Kaaka Muttai Jr (V Ramesh, the boy with disarming smile) wetting his bed. He soon cleans up and hides his dress that is dripping with his urine inside a container of his tiny home. The next morning, we see the children’s mother cooking on a kerosene-powered stove. She serves them curry and rice as her mother-in-law watches. We see Kaaka Mutta, senior, (played by J Vignesh) taking a handful of steamed rice and secretly shoving inside his trouser’s pocket. We are curious now as to why he is doing it. As the children finish their breakfast, they step out to wash their hands. The camera moves out and tracks them as they start walking through the narrow roads of their slum. And the tracking shot cuts to a top angle shot giving us a God’s eye view of a five-acre land, which looks like a never-ending maze. There is a lot of discipline in the way the filmmaker organically and smoothly shepherds the audience into the lives of underprivileged.

Given that the protagonists of this film are children, we get a lot of charming and feel-good moments of how kids in slum make the best out of almost nothing. Even as the innocence of these kids is heart-warming, we feel heavy-hearted looking at their living condition. They can’t buy toys but the city’s garbage pile provides them with enough material to play with. They don’t have a swimming pool but they have Cooum river, which is a giant cesspool. These kids have been conditioned to adjust. When they can’t afford eggs every day for nutrition, they willingly ready themselves to settle for something lesser. And that’s why Kaaka Mutta, senior, and Kaaka Muttai Jr rob eggs from the crow’s nest. Now, you know why the film and the protagonists are called Kaaka Mutta, which means ‘Crow’s Egg’. They may have resigned to poverty and have given up on materialistic desires, but they never gave up on their dreams and ambition.

The ambition of Kaaka Mutta, senior, and Kaaka Muttai Jr is not only eating a pan of pizza. They want to eat pizza like actor Simbu ate the pizza. It’s not the taste of the Italian dish that the kids crave for. For them, it signifies social status. Pizza is a social currency, which is more valuable than a smartphone for them. Achieving this feat would make them nothing less than a rockstar in their neighbourhood. It is the social acceptance that these kids are fighting for. They want in on the society. This film is about a spirited revolt led by two kids against big corporates and the social order, which recognises them nothing better than ‘kuppam pasanga’ (slum kids).

Kaaka Muttai is streaming on Hotstar.