It came as a surprise—a Tamil film without any stars running in a Mumbai multiplex for the second week, and getting an almost full house.
Of late, regional language films have been releasing in metro cities, with subtitles, and at least a few of them are doing well. People are willing to spend money to see good content. The same people might also rush to see a star-studded atrocity paying inflated ticket rates, but that’s fine. Everybody should have the freedom to choose, and if they choose to see Kaaka Muttai, then it is a good sign.
Kaaka Muttai (Crow’s Egg) is the National Award-winning debut feature of N. Manikandan, co-produced by star Dhanush and director Vetrimaaran. It doesn’t check any boxes of what is considered popular cinema—no stars (except Tamil star Simbu in small guest appearance), no songs, not a shred of glamour.
It is set in a Chennai slum, where two brothers live, both called Kaaka Muttai (Vignesh and Ramesh) because they are in the habit of stealing crow’s eggs and slurping the yolk. They have been pulled out of school, because their father is in jail, their mother does odd jobs and their grandmother minds the house. The boys, whose real names are never revealed, chip in with the household earnings by picking coal fallen by the railway tracks.
One day, the slum kids’ playground is sealed and a huge pizza outlet comes up there. The two Kaaka Muttais look longingly at the pizzas being consumed—at the restaurant and on TV commercials—and want to taste it. The problem is that the smallest pizza costs Rs 300, which they cannot afford. When they slog and collect the money, they are not allowed to enter the pizzeria, because they are dirty and barefoot. When they go to a mall to get themselves new clothes and realise they won’t be allowed in there either.
The two scruffy boys are utterly charming and though the film is a bit slow, their story grips the viewer; you want to know if they get to eat the pizza at the end. The brothers are street smart but honest—like their friends from the slum, they don’t resort to crime to earn money.
The social message is built in subtly—how the gap between the rich and poor is widening, and how progress has left the underprivileged far behind. Slums exist right outside swank malls and luxury hotels, that seem to mock the have-nots. A gently thought-provoking film is also enjoyable. It deserves to be seen, so its success is heartening.