Kids are all right

Since time immemorial, any Indian movie that revolves around kids happens to fall under that catch-all term called "feel good". Funnily, they invariably make one feel gooey, cloyingly sweet and schmaltzy but never capital-g good. The two rare movies that moved me were Stanley Ka Dabba (2011) and Salaam Bombay (1988), which despite their subject matter weren't manipulative and didn't pander to any demographics.

However, I was in luck the last month considering I watched two movies with child protagonists that absolutely blew my socks off. Tamil movie Kaaka Muttai and Marathi movie Killa, the outstanding debuts by M Manikandan and Avinash Arun respectively, are testaments to the fact that making a perfectly watchable movie in this genre is not at all akin to driving a Ferrari through a coal mine. Neither of these movies was coming-of-age or preachy, my thumb rule to liking any movie with kids at the centre of action. Kaaka Muttai (Tamil for crow's egg) is about two slum-dwelling kids of Chennai who are in equal turns bewildered and fascinated by a new pizza store that opened at a shiny new place near their slum. Despite the hardships involved in getting hold of that fluffy piece of food, the brothers' fiendish determination to taste it forms the crux of this seriously cute movie.

Away from urban setup is Killa, which has been entirely shot in the verdant Konkan landscape. It's about a seventh-grader, Chinmay (Archit Deodhar), who is coming to terms with his father's death and his mother's transfer from Pune to Konkan region. The task of making new friends at a new school is never less than daunting. Killa is about Chinmay's year in that village, which was to make him more compassionate and emphatic.

The reason I am being so rhapsodical about these movies is that they are enormously funny and the laughs are generated out of organic situations. There's this one long take in Kaaka Muttai where the kids' grandmother tries her hand at a home-made pizza, which ends up being a vegetables-infused uttapam. The whole scene crackles with genuine humour, both from the grandmom's end who wonders what else needs to be done and the kids' end whose frustration increases manifold.

Killa's real hero is Parth Bhalerao whose entertaining role as Bandya, Chinmay's classmate, just lightens up the screen every time he's in front of the camera. His sui generis dialogue delivery, languorous body language, buck-toothed smile make him a talent worth checking out in future. The thing common between the two film makers is that both of them are cinematographers too.

While Manikandan used to be a wedding photographer, Arun has a seemingly firmer footing with an FTII degree (he's the DoP for Masaan, the Hindi film that made a splash at Cannes film festival this year). Both of them examine with tenderness and delicacy the throes of emotions their pint-sized dynamites go through. Truth be told, Kaaka Muttai caught my attention a little more because Manikandan makes a mockery of the rich-poor divide, the craze for sensationalism on news channels, the movie star madness in Tamil Nadu. All of this showed in an unpretentious manner that is solely the domain of Tamil cinema.

Killa, on the other hand, gets uneven at times thanks to a shaky sub-plot that does nothing to the proceedings. That doesn't mean the movie doesn't have a real heart. Just like Kaaka Muttai, Killa too has characters that you grow to love and truly care for. The movie's scope and invention are quite good. The interval scene at the eponymous fort is so brilliant that it almost seems like magical realism. Arun's wide ranged shots amidst the lush greenery left me thinking that India can finally lay stake to a claim that it has a Terrence Malick.

Similarly, kudos to Mainkandan for giving a mundane activity like an initial bite into a pizza the heft of Proust's madeleine. So for all intents and purposes, let's hope these movies turn out to be harbingers of a genre that ought to emerge sooner than later in India.

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