Two slum kids yearn to taste a pizza after being enticed by the pizza shop that has opened near their locality. What happens when they mange to find the money to buy one?
Like a pizza, Manikandan's
is multi-layered; on the surface, it is all warm and inviting — a feel-good film about two kids and their simple desire and the earnestness in the filmmaking invites comparision with Iranian films like
Children of Heaven
. Then, there is a hard base to it as well and from time to time, the film turns into a commentary on the class divide in our society and how it is exploited by wily politicians, an allegory of the effects of globalization, and even a satire on media's obsession with sensationalism, a la
The story begins with a plot of land which acts as a playground to the kids in the slum being sold off to make way for a pizza outlet. The pizza place is opened by a film star (Simbu in a cameo) and the enticing visuals of the pizza create a burning desire in these two boys (the terrific debutants Ramesh and Vignesh) who cannot even afford the normal egg and resort to drinking crow's egg (hence their nicknames — Chinna Kaaka Muttai and Periya Kaaka Muttai) to buy and eat a pizza. The lads' father is in prison, their mother (young Aishwarya Rajesh boldly taking on the role of a mother of two) is running the show at home with great difficulty and their grandmother is almost an invalid.
But on hearing their wish, an empathetic railway lineman called Pazharasam (Joe Malloori), lets them take (read steal) the coal from the yard, and they start hoarding the money they earn by selling it. But after being driven out by the security at the pizza outlet because they are "
" and dressed in rags, there begins another round of chasing after money — this time, to buy new clothes. They manage that as well but at the pizza shop, the manager slaps one of them and tells them to buzz off. This incident, however, is captured on a mobile phone and soon, it turns into a media-fuelled, raging controversy. The small-time thief and his cohort (RJ Ramesh and Yogi Babu portraying characters who come across as a modern-day take on some of the characters played by Goundamani and Senthil) in the locality decides to use the video to blackmail the owner (Babu Antony), the local MLA decides to get some political mileage out of it, the media grows a conscience and starts talking about class divide, and the shop's owner strikes a deal with the cops to hush up the issue, while the boys, who fear their mother might come to know of their embarrassment, go missing. The film does seem a little less sure when the boys are offscreen, but Manikandan manages to tie up all these strands with an ending that is not only satisfactory but also heartwarming.
Manikandan seems to have the knack to make even the most mundane interesting and it is evident right at the very start of the film when the two boys playfully take turns to read out the statutory warning against smoking and drinking. Much of the humour in the film comes from sharp observations. For example, the ration shop can provide two television sets but when it comes to rice, "
"; when the boys diss the homemade 'pizza' that their grandma has made for them saying, "
Pizza-la nool noola varum
", she retorts, "
pona dhaan nool noola
"; a woman asks her neighbour to come for a protest because they will get biriyani and money; a friend of the pizza shop owner who keeps making inopportune remarks. The gags are also on their mark — the politician giving bytes dressed in lungi, the boys nonchalantly walking past a TV reporter without realizing that she is talking about them, a drunken man being taken to his home on a toy car, a TV anchor cutting off a panellist every time he tries to make his point and moving on to a break or worse, showing the video again...
The director also doesn't shy away from showing us some of the darker aspects of poverty — one of the kids in the slums cunningly steals mobile phones from the footboard passengers of passing trains; the thief and his cohort steal the manholes from apartments and sell them to make money; even the cable connection in the boys' home is acquired illegally. And, the two lads themselves reach a point where their ravenous need to somehow taste a pizza (one of them even tells their mom, "
Pizza dhaan venum... Appa
" when she talks about how she doesn't have the money to get him out on bail) forces them to think of taking up crime to get the money required. There is also squalour and abject poverty (though, the camera and the scenes never linger long for us to feel squeamish; this is, after all, meant to be a feel-good film, as evident from the jaunty score) — the boys' one-room home with a curtain separating the living room and the toilet, the Cooum serving as their pool, the lack of money to arrange the funeral of a departed one... A different film might have used all these elements to give us a heavy-duty social drama that would have only ended up as the 836th time a 'socially-conscious filmmaker' holding a mirror to our society and hectoring us for our callousness.
Refreshingly, Manikandan refrains from doggedly going for our tear ducts in his portrayal of the lives of these underprivileged (though, there are a couple of deserving moments that brings us to tears); he also doesn't indulge in heavy-handed sermonising or needlessly attacking the haves (we even get a boy from a well-to-do family who is sort-of friends with the boys to the extent of saving a slice of pizza for them — though the older one refuses to take it deeming it a leftover) and instead presents things mostly in a matter-of-fact manner. Yes, there is difficulty and sorrow in their lives, but there is also an abundant amount of ingenuity, endless optimism, and indefatigable spirit and this is what makes these characters memorable and helps the film soar.