As Ramesh, 15, and Vignesh, 12, take their seats atThe Hindu ’s office, there’s no nervousness, no reticence. They are now veterans at giving interviews. The little one, Vignesh, looks me squarely in the eyes, and lifts his eyebrows — almost a haughty taunt that tells me he’s ready to answer my questions. I oblige. Better not keep the National Award winners waiting, eh?
Director Manikandan spotted them playing near the slums of Kasimedu a couple of years ago. He took their photos and a few days later, convinced their respective parents to let them off for a couple of months for shooting a film. “We didn’t know it’d become this popular,” says Ramesh. But the idea of directors whisking away children from their slum wasn’t new for them. “Short film makers do it all the time. We thought this would be another such small film.”
Manikandan rehearsed with the children for around a month before the actual shoot began. “It took us that long to get used to words like ‘rolling’ and ‘action’. For a long time, we would just keep grinning at the camera,” Ramesh laughs. Vignesh, like he does through the conversation, cuts in with a punch: “Maybe you needed the time. I was comfortable very early.”
The real problem wasn’t acting but eating the crow’s eggs. The unit would steal the eggs from crows’ nests in Kasimedu. “A few people got pecked by protective crows,” says Ramesh. The eggs made them feel queasy. “ Thalai vali vandhuchu (I got a headache),” says Vignesh. At the shooting spot, they were tempted with chocolates. “No ice creams though. They didn’t want our voices to get affected.” When the rewards didn’t work, some unusual methods were employed. For instance, a scene in the film needed Vignesh to look scared — it took the sudden crashing of two plates to get the expression.
During the two months of shooting, both children were allowed a trip to their parents’ every Sunday. “Vignesh cried a bit when he was alone,” says Ramesh. Vignesh quickly retorts, “Shut up, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t care about returning.”
Ramesh and Vignesh study in corporation schools in Kasimedu and Ennore respectively. Vignesh is a big fan of Dhanush (“I loved Anegan ”) and it probably made his entire year that he met him recently. The first thing he asked creative producer Vetrimaaran when in the presence of Dhanush was, “Is this the real Dhanush or his dupe?” Vignesh says, “I touched him to make sure.”
Ramesh is a huge Ajith fan, but prefers to go to school. “If education doesn’t work out, perhaps I’ll step into cinema,” he says.
Kaaka Muttai has helped these children live quite a few of their fantasies — like travelling in an aeroplane. They were terrified when the plane took off. “I started praying,” says Vignesh. The flight was, of course, to Delhi where they recently received their National Awards from the President of India. “Mani sir (director Manikandan) told me I’d be meeting the Janathipathi ,” says Vignesh. “I was like, ‘What? Who is he?’” Their classmates and neighbours are already asking them to speak with Vetrimaaran and get them a chance to act in films too. Vignesh has told them he’ll see what he can do.
The film also gave them a chance to taste their first pizza. Ramesh, who lives with 15 people in his Kasimedu hut (“We literally sleep on each other”), didn’t really care for its taste. “I’d much rather have dosa and curd rice,” he says.
I ask Vignesh about the scene in which he wells up. “Easy. They put glycerine in our eyes,” he says. He found it quite unbearable. “It burned a lot.” He also loves dancing, and is a big fan of Michael Jackson and Lawrence. “I dance in frogrammes organised near my house,” he says, fiddling with his gold chain, a gift from Vetrimaaran for both.
Despite a press show having been organised by the time this interview took place (late on Thursday), the children hadn’t seen the film yet. The filmmakers are apparently worried that they’d spoil the film by talking about it in interviews. “I guess we’ll watch it with our parents in iDreams (a theatre in Old Washermanpet),” says Ramesh. Vignesh already has a strategy to deal with people who may potentially ask him for autographs or “selfies”. “I’ll probably cover my face with a handkerchief through the screening,” he says. Look out then for that kid with a handkerchief on his face. That’s the one you want to take a selfie with, when you’re watching Kaaka Muttai .