Star cast: Shams Patel, four new street kids, Alok Nath, Raghubir Yadav, Ranvir Shorey.

Plot: A young street urchin finds a tiny tot abandoned at a children’s home. He picks it up and tries to trace the little one’s mother. He is helped by his other urchin friends. Their journey takes them to hospitals, orphanages, brothels and where not.

What’s Good: The extraordinary performances of the five debut-making kids; the bold dialogues laced with the choicest four-letter words; the authentic making.

What’s Bad: The depressing story; the misleading title.

Verdict: Despite the authentic feel of the drama, Thanks Maa will prove to be a thankless enterprise for the makers.

Loo break: None, actually!

Quantum Films Ltd.’s Thanks Maa (A) is a bold film about the underbelly of Bombay city.

Salman Khan a.k.a. Municipality Ghatkopar (master Shams Patel), Soda (master Salman), Cutting (master Fayaaz), Dedh Shaana (master Jaffar) and Sursuri (baby Almas) are five slum-dwellers who bond well and do odd jobs, besides picking people’s pockets, for a living. Municipality Ghatkopar is the most principled of the lot and he is very sad about the fact that he was deserted by his mother when he was still a tiny tot.

Sent to a children’s home after he is caught for a petty crime, Municipality runs away from there when he realises that the warden (Alok Nath) is a paedophile who is lusting for him (Municipality). While escaping from the children’s home in the middle of the night, he sees a woman abandoning a new-born baby at the doorstep of the same home. Instinctively, he picks up the baby and runs away with it so that it is spared the lustful eyes of the wretched warden. He resolves to trace the woman who left the child, christened Krish by him, but the only thing he remembers is that the taxi in which she had come to the children’s home had a picture of Salman Khan the actor from the film Tere Naam.

Even as Soda taunts him for his mission, Cutting, Sursuri and Dedh Shaana join him. The four little kids roam the streets of Bombay, trying desperately to trace Krish’s mother. With some help, they succeed in locating the cabbie, Yusuf Charsi (Sanjay Mishra), who had driven the woman to the children’s home. He leads them on to Motwani (Ranvir Shorey) who had had an affair with the woman. He, in turn, informs them of the whereabouts of the woman, Laxmi (Mukta Barve), who turns out to be a prostitute in a brothel. The four children reach the brothel and brave all dangers to get in touch with Laxmi.

One destination leads to another and Municipality, with the help of the authorities in the hospital where Krish was born and a priest who runs an orphanage, finally locates the mother of Krish but he is in for the worst shock of his life. Does Municipality give Krish to his mother? Does Municipality get to know who his own mother is? What happens to Krish thereafter? These questions are answered in the climax.

Irfan Kamal and Vishal Vijay Kumar’s script is bold and, at the same time, it touches the heart. The writers have penned a superbly authentic tale of street urchins. Their attitude, the language they speak, their innocence, their rawness, their intuitiveness, their mannerisms, all have been captured so beautifully that one can’t help admire the brilliance of the writers and the first-time actors playing the street kids. The film which immediately comes to mind while watching Thanks Maa is Hollywood’s Slumdog Millionaire (English) and its dubbed Hindi version, Slumdog Crorepati and although comparisons are not always right, what differentiates this film from the earlier hit is that while Slumdog was an uplifting film, Thanks Maa is a depressing fare. And it is this feeling of depression one experiences while watching the drama unfold on the screen, that will greatly limit its prospects at the box-office. The depressing nature of the drama is because of the various facts of the city’s underbelly, which the film exposes. Paedophilia, extra-marital affairs, detailed working of the prostitution business, an insight into the sleazy functioning of a prostitute, child exploitation – these are only some of the crimes dealt with in the film in all their graphic details. As if this weren’t enough, what the climax throws up is even more shocking and, for the average film buff, horrifyingly depressing. In that sense, the film’s title is a complete misnomer, giving the public an impression of a family film. The liberal and truly abundant use of the choicest four-letter words in Hindi adds to the authenticity of the film. The censors deserve kudos for passing the film in its raw form. The swear words would be enjoyed by the masses and the menfolk although women would feel repulsed by the overdose. However, it must be mentioned here that irrespective of how the ladies react to the film, the foul language spoken by the characters is the USP of the film.

The story is humane but where the writers have faltered is in not being able to incorporate pronounced emotions in the drama. They probably got so involved with the four-letter words, the authenticity factor and the shock value that they failed to weave the emotional angle effectively. A drama of this kind needed to be truly high on emotions. Comedy is inherent in the dialogues mouthed by the five street children. Climax is too shocking for comfort.

Performances of the cast members are absolutely fantastic. The five actors playing the street kids deserve the highest praise for their natural acting in their maiden attempts. Master Shams Patel is outstanding and shines with an unbelievably realistic performance. He deserved the National Award he won. Master Salman is very good. Fayaaz is just too natural. Baby Almas does a brilliant job and seems to be a born actress. Master Jaffer is endearing and his dialogue delivery with a straight face makes him truly unique. Sanjay Mishra leaves a mark; he has given a nude shot! Ranvir Shorey is very natural. Alok Nath does a superb job. Raghubir Yadav shines in a brief role. Barry John is effective as the priest who runs the orphanage. Mukta Barve is okay. Jalees Sherwani is nice as the eunuch. Baby Sakshi is very cute in the role of the abandoned child, Krish. Krishna (as pimp), Kodak (as prostitute Laxmi’s client), Ayesha Raza (as Ranvir Shorey’s wife) and the others lend excellent support.

Irfan Kamal’s direction deserves distinction marks. His narrative style is raw and given that the tale is depressing, he has done an honest job of narrating the same. Background music (Ranjit Barot) is in keeping with the film’s theme. Ajayan Vincent has done a splendid job with his camera. His cinematography captures the proceedings marvellously. Amit Saxena and Firoz Khan’s editing is excellent. Art direction (by Tejashree Sheetal) deserves special mention. Thrills (Abbas Ali Moghul) are realistic.

On the whole, Thanks Maa is a wonderful attempt but its commercial prospects will not at all match its merits for two reasons: it is a depressing fare, and its promotion is almost negligible. A film of this kind deserved a huge promotional budget and extensive and effective marketing, without which it could go almost unnoticed. The film will have to depend on word of mouth but the pick-up in collections, if at all, may not be enough. It would actually be a nice miracle if mouth publicity could help boost the collections, at least in the big cities.

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