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Kaakkaa Muttai (The Crow’s Egg) is the story of two young brothers who live in a Chennai slum with their mother and grandmother. Their father is in jail. Their mother (the lovely and expressive Aishwarya Rajesh) works in a small factory that produces metal bowls. The boys have been pulled out of school and spend part of each day collecting coal along the railroad tracks to sell. The film festival description says the boys first see pizza in a television commercial, but this isn’t quite the case (although I understand why this was massaged for film festival audiences).

What happens is a new pizza restaurant opens in their neighbourhood and one of their favourite actors (and a favourite of mine too) – Simbu in a funny and self-aware cameo – comes to inaugurate it. After seeing Simbu eating pizza the boys are determined to try it for themselves. The brothers’ obsession is encouraged by the fact that due to the opening of the pizza shop the area is bombarded with advertising, like the aforementioned commercial and a flyer which takes on a talismanic property for one of the brothers. Once a pizza delivery man even gets lost inside the slum and offers the boys a whiff of pizza in exchange for directions back to the main road. However, trying pizza for the first time does not prove to be as simple as collecting enough coal to earn the 300 rupees required, and the brothers set off a chain of events that highlight the growing class inequality in Tamil Nadu society. Also highlighted are the various forces at work affecting the lives of the slum dwellers – the businessmen, politicians, cops, and the slum dwellers themselves (at their various levels of guile).

The film is delightful, and the audience I saw it with laughed throughout. It also has a great punchline (even the taciturn older man I was sitting next to laughed at that). The boys who play the brothers are effortlessly charming – apparently they are actual residents of the slum where the movie was filmed, who were coached in acting for just two months before shooting began. There is a point about three-quarters through the film where they disappear from the screen for a while, and it was the only time that I felt the movie drag a little and started the wonder where it was headed. Luckily they reappear in time for the climax and aforementioned punchline. The movie is produced by director Vetrimaaran and actor Dhanush – it’s great to see more influential figures in the industry throwing their support behind more off-beat films, and I hope we see more of it in the future. In the meantime, I unreservedly recommend watching Kaakkaa Muttai if you get the opportunity.

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