He`s 12, homeless and he refuses to adopt the swaggering amorality of his friends on the street. They call him Municipal Ghatkopar because that`s the address where he was dumped as a child. But he prefers to be known as Salman Khan.
Strongly reminiscent of Mira Nair`s "Salaam Bombay" and far more resonantly representative of Mumbai`s slum kids than "Slumdog Millionaire", "Thanks Maa" is a journey into lives that were born into despair.
Without the crutches of self-pity, debutant director Irfan Kamal enters the world of the orphaned protagonist Municipality who on one of those routine days of scavenging, stealing and hanging around with his friends waiting for the next meal, comes across an abandoned little infant.
Before we can say `Hey Baby`, the narration quickly swerves away from the cute and schmaltzy aspect of find-baby-will-coochie-coo kind of feel-good cinema to show the gritty harsh reality of life on the relentless streets of Mumbai and how it toughens the tender ones. Real fast.
Irfan Kamal makes one helluva departure from convention. He cruises the crowded areas of Mumbai with an eye for stinging details. The film hints hectically at the savagely insensitive quality of life lived on the streets.
Our young hero refuses to be like the routine scum. "Main tere jaisa nahin hoon," he tells his more street-wise pals, and sets off on a determined path to find the lost baby`s mother.
It`s a heartbreaking enlightening journey undertaken by the director in a spirit of adventure, discovery and tranquility. Teeming with characters, "Thanks Maa" still preserves a core of stirring stillness at its centre.
Often you feel "Thanks Maa" is a romantic homage to the unbreakable spirit of Mumbai. But then you see the bitter and brutal truth about life on the fringes, as the young brave little hero is almost molested by the warden of the reformatory played by Alok Nath.
"Thanks Maa" is a tender yet ruthless look at a city that claims to have a place for everyone but somehow neglects looking after children who are vulnerable to every form of attack on the streets.
Quite frequently we look at Mumbai through the eyes of the little boy and his companions as they encounter a gallery of weirdos and wackos...an alcoholic hospital attendant(Raghuvir Yadav), a doped-out cabbie (Sanjay Mishra), a paedophilic reformatory warden(Alok Nath), a cheesy incestuous upper class father (Yateen Karyekar), an imposing eunuch (Jalees Shrawani) who offers to take the baby out of Municipality`s shoulder...an offer the boy firmly refuses.
The young hero`s shock and dismay when he finally finds the baby`s mother are so palpable they reverberate in our hearts long after the film is over.
The film has its flaws, the most glaring being the constant struggle to keep the homeless children`s story credibly contoured on the bustling streets. In many sequences, the young actor Shams can be seen carrying a doll instead of a baby. Also, because of the inherently dramatic nature of the theme some of the characters and situations lose self-control.
The jagged edges do not undermine the film`s unique and thoroughly unorthodox blend of realism and social message. While the veterans pitch in brave cameos that take the narrative forward to its heartbreaking conclusion, it`s the child actors who proudly occupy centrestage. All of them are so in-character, you wonder which came first, the slums or the camera!
Some of the editing (Amit Saxena) is uneven. But the camerawork (Ajayan Vincent) and background score (Ranjit Barot) add an extra dimension to this heartwarming tale of an orphan who won`t let another newly-born suffer his fate.
A 12 year old street kid named Municipality, while on the run from the reformatory, finds & saves a two day old abandoned baby from becoming the prey to a ferocious street dog. Failing to find any takers among the people whom he deemed responsible and respectable, Municipality takes up the onus of finding the mother of that abandoned baby himself. Here onwards ensues his struggle in the urban jungle of Mumbai with just four of his friends from the street, Soda (15), Sursuri (10), Cutting (8) & Dhed-Shaana (6) on his side and apparently the whole world against him. Municipality’s rock steady determination ultimately helps him emerge a winner against all odds as he reaches that baby’s mother but in bargain he loses his most precious possession… the flawless & god-like image of a mother he used to see in his dreams and probably the hope that he’ll ever find his own mother come searching for him at the Municipality Hospital where he was found abandoned 12 years ago.