There is no other film that weaves a story around childhood and sibling love like Kakkothi Kaavile Appoppan Thaadikal (1988), in Malayalam, written by Fazil and directed by Kamal , and looking at the way things are progressing, there never will. Kamal calls it the movie closest to his heart, Vipin Mohan (legendary cinematographer) says there can be no film like this, ever. It doesn’t have a single superstar of the times, no sky-high budgets, no glitz. All it has is a beautiful story of separation, independence and the inevitable reunion, deftly woven around a myth that stays sacred in the collective consciousness of one’s childhood – everything that is embodied by an appoppan thadi ( Grandpa’s beard a.k.a Calotropis Gigantea) !
Valsala ( Ambika ) and Lakshmi (Revathi) are sisters, and the elder one is more like a mother to Lakshmi, ( they stay with their father, a delightfully young MS Thripunithura) who fondly calls her Vavachi. The childhood of the siblings, shown as a montage ( the most memorable of them chasing the Appoppan Thadikal) as the opening song ( the melodious Kannathumbi Poramo..) is brilliantly portrayed by
Pallavi Joshi ( its Kaveri ! Thanks for pointing out, Sandeep!) as the young Valsala, though I have no idea as to who plays the adorable lil Lakshmi.
Suffice to say, lil Lakshmi disappears one morning, from their front courtyard, as sister Valsala goes to draw a pot of water for a thirsty gypsy (V.K Sreeraman as Uvachu) who asks for some. Even the gypsy has disappeared when she gets back !
The story moves to the present , centered around Murli, an orphan, who has music in his blood, hates his foster-parents and carries an infectious sense of optimism ( Kiran Vergis ‘s debut), his arch rival Punnoose ( Anu Anand‘s debut), their band of school buddies, their Math teacher - Mathai ( Krishnankutty Nair) a.k.a Kalan Mathai ( Kalan means Devil), who is also the recurring nightmare of their little lives, and the entry of a wayfaring gypsy group who pitches tent inside the Kakkothi Kavu ( the sacred grove) in their laid-back village.
The Kaavu (sacred grove) is said to be the haunt of Kakkalathi Subhadra, who was killed in her prime by the local squire, the one-legged, conniving Chellamballil Elameenan who couldn’t bear to see her falling in love with a minstrel and was murdered by the former.
She in turn kills the squire and waits in the grove through centuries, singing to him, fulfilling the wishes of the children who offer gypsum stones at the entrance to make her necklaces!
Murli is a regular devotee, thankful for having escaped the clutches of Kalan Mathai many times through her intercessions. The scenes in the school are so hilariously funny and memorable, and also brings a tear to your eye, of memories past. Valsala (Ambika) joins as the new class teacher for Murli and takes an instant liking to him. Murli, tired of the beatings, runs away from home, drops out of school, into the safe haven of the grove, stumbles upon the gypsy camp and meets in flesh and blood, whom he has till then worshipped in spirit, Kakkothi! Only it is the most foul-mouthed, boisterous tomboy of them all, Revathy, whom he still addresses as Kakkothi.
She is floored by his dexterity with the harmonica and at once team up.The story follows their adventures through the countryside, stealing guavas, hawking, street-singing , everything we owe to our childhood - its an evocative 20 minutes of screenplay.
In between he gets confronted by Valsala, who takes him home, determined to give him a fresh lease of life. Kakkothi meets him the next day on the way to school, and he is back with her and their adventures. Surasu playsthe leader of the gypsy clan and Kakkothi’s foster father, who had in fact rescued her from Uvacchu’s hands as a little girl, for which he is still vengeful. He lands in the village – now with a limp ( as a result of Kakkothi knifing him in an earlier attempt to take her away) in his search for Surasu and the girl that was taken from him.
He finds out their camp. Meanwhile, the local police raid the camp inside the Kaavu, and Kakkothi and Murli watch as their fellow-members are rounded up and taken away. Murli proposes a practical solution, even at the cost of losing his freedom and getting a dressing down, to request Valsala teacher for help.
Both of them reach the house in the middle of the night, and as Kakkothi takes the first look at the house in the moonlight, she is shell-shocked, and she breaks down. Does Valsala teacher listen to Murli and help them? And what is it that made Kakkothi break-down as she sees the house, Valsala teacher and her aging father?
Will Uuvachu manage to take her away this time around? Or will she escape? Has she stumbled upon the biggest and darkest secret of her life and her lost childhood in that moment? For that you will have to watch the movie.
So, is there is a DVD of the movie available?
A company based out of US, New Age DVD has advertised about it being its new release, but haven’t been able to get my hands on it. A mail to their contact id, firstname.lastname@example.org, bounced back all guns blazing ! Found a site called MalayalamFlix.com which has a DVD, which costs US $ 7.00 ! There is a Video CD locally available, crappily digitised, marketed by Weekend Home Entertainment .
I have posted the Songs of Kakkothi Kaavile Appoppan Thaadikal in the Music.Magic Section.