Thanks Maa

Thanks Maa


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

There is no doubt that the content of Thanks Maa - a Mumbai streetkids' fable with an edge of realism - will invite comparisons with Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, comparisons which the filmmaker Irfan Kamal will no doubt be pleased about, since it may well help his debut get some notice. But where Boyle's film has more of a 'dreamy' quality, Kamal's, although at heart a fairytale, is considerably grittier and less glossy in its depiction of life on the streets of Mumbai and, in many ways it has more in common with Kabuli Kid in its use of the adventures of one person and an abandoned child to shine a light on the plight of a city.

The story centres on 12-year-old Municipality and his feral pack of pals - who get by on the streets through a series of scams from petty thievery to con-artistry. Named after the hospital on whose doorstep he was dumped, he idiolises the idea of motherhood so, when escaping at night from a reform school-cum-orphanage he sees a woman dump a baby on its steps, he decides he's going to do what he can to return him to his mum.

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What follows is a picaresque adventure through the underbelly of Mumbai, revealing the adult world's obliviousness to the plight of - as the end credits tell us - hundreds of newborns abandoned each day in India. The film could be criticised for its fairytale aspects but, in some ways, Municipality's constant lucky escape from peril only serves to make you more aware of the very real threats that exist on the streets - from the nefarious attentions of pimps looking for virgins, no matter how young, to the more 'respectable' predators who exploit children from positions of authority. That Municipality manages to continually survive without killing his small charge makes you all the more aware of the struggle for survival which, in real life, would probably see both of them dead or in grave danger within the first 15 minutes. Even those adults who seem at least to care - a member of hospital staff, a local Catholic priest - are portrayed as largely ineffectual.

The children, particularly Master Shams as Municipality, put in wonderfully naturalistic turns - no doubt fuelled by the fact that, although all of them have guardians, they were, at the point this film was made, pretty close to the breadline in real life. The main problem with the film, which passes in a flash that belies its two-hour runtime, is the adult acting performances. They are so hammy across the board - with the exception of the priest (Barry John) - its a wonder the entire ensemble haven't sprouted curly tails and trotters. Their theatricality undermines the realism elsewhere, which is a shame. Though some might quibble that the easy fairytale resolution of the story is too sweet, it is perfectly in keeping with the nature of a fable that, despite its light touch offers strong commentary on the harsh realities of life for far too many youngsters on the street.

Reviewed on: 17 Jul 2009
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A snapshot of life on the streets of Mumbai, sees a boy try to unite an abandoned baby with its mum.
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Director: Irlan Kamal

Starring: Master Shams, Master Shalman, Master Fayaaz, Master Jafar, Baby Almas, Barry John, Raghubir Yadav

Year: 2008

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: India


EIFF 2009

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