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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Thanks Maa - Worth a watch.

The Hindi movie industry, Bollywood, though situated in the celluloid capital of India - Mumbai, has time and again showed its insensitivity to the city and its occupants by failing to show a real picture of what lies beneath the glossy veneer. And the director of Thanks Maa has drawn inspiration for his film from these real-life incidents that have regularly managed to grab headline space in the nation's leading dailies - issues involving infants being abandoned in dustbins and in hospital wards and in temples, small children left to themselves to beg and steal in order to feed their hungry selves, small girls on the streets who are always eyed by the pimps as a potential money-pot, girls from affluent families who are sexually exploited by their fathers, cheating husbands, prostitutes who have known only how to sell their bodies but will do anything to save their children from a similar plight....There is no dearth of 'real' topics that are there beneath all the lights, glamour, action and romance that is the norm in our film industry, but there is a dearth of filmmakers who would have the guts to attempt something 'real' without being preachy or judgemental and this is where Thanks Maa scores.

Though in the past there have been a meager amount of movies like Salaam Bombay and more recently SlumDog Millionaire, based on the street kids who are left to fend for themselves from almost the time they are born, the Mumbai urchins have hardly every been shown on reel in a 'real' light. A few filmmakers have tried to incorporate a very little segment of these slum kids into real cinema, but hardly does anyone be willing enough to make a movie that will focus on the plight of these young and helpless children, who are always out there in the world that exists behind our car windows, who are not really a part of 'our' lives, but who, we believe each time we see their apathy, will somehow survive, as they are born with the instinct to fight and survive.

The Cast and Crew:
Director - Irfan Kamal
Actors - Shams (Municipality), Salman (Soda), Jaafer (Dhed Shaana), Faayaz (Cutting), Almas (Sursuri), Barry John (the church Father), Raghubir Yadav (the municipal hospital peon), Ranvir Shorey (the cheating husband), Alok Nath (the pedophile), Sanjay Mishra (the drugged cab driver), Mukta Barve (prostitute Laxmi)

The plot is based on the incidents of infant abandonment in Mumbai. Thanks Maa is the story of 5 street kids in Mumbai - Municipality, Soda, Dhed-Shaana, Cutting and Sursuri, who live in the garbage dump and over gutters and near railway platforms and try and make some change by pickpocketing unsuspecting passengers on the platform. The protagonist, Municipality, was abandoned in the municipal hospital at birth and hence named Municipality by the hospital peon (Yadav).It has been almost 10 years now but the boy,who now lives on the streets, still comes every day to meet Yadav and ask him if his ma has come back looking for him. Yadav will not give information,which is always a NO,without being given a bottle of the local liquor and Municipality has to do everything to ensure he earns money so that he can buy that bottle that may bring news of his ma.

After one such pickpocketing incident, Municipality is caught by the police and sent to the remand home. Here he is met by the superintendent (Alok Nath) who is a pedophile and makes his intentions very clear. Somehow,Municipality manages to break free of his clutches and is almost about to run away from the building when he sees a taxi stopping at the entrance,a woman steps out,leaves something on the steps and then disappears in the taxi. As the scared boy is about to run away,he realises a dog is biting at the bundle and curious,he turns to take a look,only to discover to his horror, that the bundle is nothing else but a new-born baby.He picks up the baby and decides to find its mother and return the infant.

Thus begins a heart-wrenching journey where Municipality realises that there is no one else beside him who will actually help the baby get back to its mother. He names the infant Krish, so that no one can call it an orphan or something like 'Municipality'. On the way he comes across many characters like a cheating husband, a cabbie who thrives on drugs, a prostitute, a eunuch, a pimp, a father who sexually exploits his own daughter and other believable characters who regularly feature in the newspapers.

One scene that really touched my heart was when Municipality goes to a hospital in search of a certain ward-boy who can help him about the identity of the infant's mother. After speaking to the receptionist, all the kids thank her, because she spoke to them 'nicely'..'Thanks, aapney humse itney achchhey se baat kiya'...for everyone else they have met has either shooed them away or beaten and abused them.

The street life of Mumbai comes alive with the performances of these kids,who are slum kids in real life as well. The National Award for the protagonist Municipality is definitely most deserving. All the children have given an incredible performance, in fact their portrayals are so strong that it is impossible to believe they are merely acting, that is the beauty of these little actors.

The director has taken care to keep most of the things genuine. The language for one, none of the child actor is uncomfortable mouthing abuses that many of us will never utter in our lives. We see how these little kids, who barely earn enough to have a meal, feel that forty rupees is a big amount and can buy them a new pair of shirt and trousers, as they have only one dress, the one they are wearing. One of the kids (barely 7) has got a job of cleaning utensils in a hotel and dreams of becoming a builder when he grows up. As the others mock him, he lays out his plans: 'pehley bartan ghisega, phir table pochhega, phir aarder lega, phir meneger banega, phir bada aadmi banega, bilding banaayega.' But he desperately needs to buy a shirt out of the 40 rupees he has, as otherwise the guard will not allow him to enter the hotel since his dress is so dirty. When Soda and Municipality have a fight, the latter's shirt is torn and he cries, as this was the only shirt he had. Throughout the film he is shown wearing the torn shirt.

Through the 2 days that Municipality has the baby, he becomes its mother, trying every possible thing to find some milk for the baby, cleaning it when it dirties itself, putting it to sleep, talking to the baby and assuring that he will take it to its mother. He gets so attached to the baby that hardly does he let anyone else take it from his arms. The fear of having been separated from his own mother is so strong in the boy that he cannot bear to think another innocent should end up growing like him.

His emotions are brilliantly portrayed in one especially touching scene towards the end of the movie when he is almost on the verge of finding the infant's mother, he holds it in his arms and says: "Mujhpe to saara din moota, main bura nahin maana, par ma ke paas jaakey thhoda kam karna, nahi to woh bolegi kitna ganda hai, mujhey nahi chaahiye. Main har Sunday aayega tujhe milney.Mujhey bhoolega to nahi na? Par bachpan ka kahaan yaad rehta hai? Galat hai na, bachpan ka time to yaad rehney ka.Mujhey yaad rehta to main bhi apni maa ko jhat se dhoondh leta."

The film is filled with hindi abuses and not one dialogue is left without expletives,something that would be common in a 'real' street setting as well. The director has not tried to show a clean or beautiful frame in the movie, instead, the movie has been shot in real locations like real slums, dumping grounds, platforms, temples and the like and the characters are all real as well.

Watch this movie only for Municipality and the rest of the kids. Do not expect big roles from the seasoned actors as they have brief appearances and the entire movie pulls a winner on the performances of the children alone. Watch it only if you can digest a movie without an exposing female lead, without a six-pack-ab hero, without the 'naach-gaana' and the choreographed moves, without breathtaking locales, without designer clothes and accessories, and most important of all, without a feel-good plot. Cause this movie will not end with a fairytale 'happily-ever-after', making you think that life is all good and rosy... It will force you to think of someone else other than you and your perfect world, it will make you realise that, sometimes, with just a smile or a little helping hand,you can make a world of difference to those little young faces that look at you from the other side of your car window.