It is never easy to adapt a literary work to cinema, and it is never very easy to remake a film from one language to another. People will always indulge in comparisons -- and often unjustifiable and unfairly so. And if a book or a movie is popular and good, the whole exercise of adaptation or remake is fraught with all the more impediments. So, it must have called for a lot of guts to create another version in Marathi of Manikandan’s excellent Tamil work, Kaaka Muttai.
Titled Half Ticket, its director Samit Kakkad told this writer here on Thursday that he strove hard to retain the soul of Kaaka Muttai while he helmed Half Ticket -- which, along with two other Indian entries (The Narrow Path and Lipstick Under My Burkha), is part of the ongoing Cairo International Film Festival.
Indeed, Kakkad has been able to keep the spirit of the Tamil version, while infusing his own creative inputs into his edition. Despite the danger of his movie have limited viewership because of the Marathi language, Kakkad decided not to do Half Ticket in Hindi. There were two reasons. One, Hindi cinema is still not ready to embrace works like Half Ticket. Bollywood is obsessively urban centric, and gone are the days of Shyam Benegal, who took his cinema to rural regions. Second, “Somehow, I felt that the Tamil work would lend itself best if it is helmed in Marathi, for Mumbai’s identification with the language is undeniable.”
Apart from the language, Half Ticket captures the essential nuances of a Mumbai slum. Not Dharavi in this case. “Although I live very close to Dharavi (said to be Asia’s largest slum), and my own grandfather used to live there and I visited him often with my mother, I shot Half Ticket in the Bombay Port Trust (BPT) area, which is also a slum, a sea-facing one.”
Kakkad deliberately chose the BPT slum, and not Dharavi, “because this place has been done to death in cinema... I did not want anyone to say that he or she has already seen that slum in some other film.”
Except for a brief scene that involved a pizzeria (a cloth shop was converted into a pizza joint), Kakkad used actual locations. “Sometimes, we used a small camera to unobtrusively capture the action... And, believe it or not, I completed the entire shoot in 31 days with not a single retake.”
Admittedly, the boys, essayed by Shubham More and Vinayak Potdar, were “brilliant” -- and this helped to speed up the production. Kakkad would give them their lines on the morning of the shoot with the strict instructions not to stop even if they fumbled. And they carried on with remarkable natural ability.
What is more, apart from a short workshop which Kakkad conducted for the boys, they had no other training. And they slipped into their characters with impressive comfort -- their sense of easiness also coming from their familiarity with the slum concerned. Kakkad had kind of let them lose there, and in three days, the boys had made friends with children in the slum. “Kids have this bewitching ability to mix and move around.”
Of course, it was not easy to find More and Potdar. “To begin with, the boys had to look like brothers. At least they had to have some kind of resemblance, and camaraderie with each other, and this proved to be very difficult,” Kakkad reminisces. With just about a month to go before the movie went on the floors, he was desperate. And none of the 500 (!) boys he had screen-tested seemed to match Kakkad’s view of the Kaaka Muttai kids. “Till one fine day, More and Potdar walked into my office, and they appeared to have dropped from the skies. They were just perfect.”
This massive hunt for his principal actors reminded this writer of David O Selznick’s equally massive search for Scarlett O Hara. With the production of Gone With The Wind having already started, Selznick grew desperate. But one evening with Atlanta burning (a scene from the picture, which was adapted from Margaret Michell’s literary classic by the same name), his brother appeared on the set with Miss Leigh. “Here is your Scarlett,” he beamed. Selznick was rattled to see an exact image of Scarlett (in Leigh) he had in his mind -- and he was so relieved.
Kakkad must have been as eased as Selznick was many, many decades ago.
But before all this happened, Kakkad -- who is a first-day, first-show guy, sometimes watching three films in a row -- was just floored when he saw Manikandan’s tale of two boys, who steal eggs from a crow’s nest and drink them. “I knew at that very minute that Kaaka Muttai would translate wonderfully into a Marathi work, because slums are such an integral part of Mumbai... I knew that it was a Mumbai story, and I had, in line with this, made the city a principal character in Half Ticket.”
In fact, this is the vital difference between Manikandan’s movie and Kakkad’s. Also, the nuances of the Marathi language have been highlighted, as those of Tamil have been in the Tamil edition.
Kaaka Muttai -- as many of us may already know -- is a delightfully heart-tugging adventure of two underprivileged brothers, whose unbelievable resoluteness to buy a pizza from an eatery that opens next to their shanty forms the core of the plot. And how they go about this makes for riveting cinema. Half Ticket tells us the same story and as engagingly as Manikandan did.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cairo International Film Festival.)
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