Stars: Aishwarya Rajesh, Ramesh Thilaganathan, Ramesh and Vignesh.
Writer/Director: M. Manikandan.
Watch the trailer here.
Reviewed at the Opening Night of the 2014 Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival; the full details of the Sydney Film Festival programme are available here.
M. Manikandan’s debut feature The Crow’s Egg is a child’s-eye tale of exuberance and kinship that only loses its focus when it wants to play grown-up.
Set against the dire conditions of Chennai’s slum metropolis (approximately a third of the population of the South Indian city live in crude shanty communities), The Crow’s Egg tells of the vibrant lives that two pre-teen brothers forge for themselves. Known only as ‘Big Crow’s Egg’ (Ramesh) and ‘Little Crow’s Egg’ (Ramesh Thilaganathan) due to their penchant for raiding bird’s nests for a quick snack, the pair indulges in good-hearted mischief as a means by which to procure a spare morsel of food or some meagre cash.
In their meanderings, they encounter glimpses of a middle-class life they realise they will never know. All this changes when corrupt developers level their only play area and build a ‘Pizza Stop’ fast-food outlet. Having nagged their harried but loving mother (Aishwarya Rajesh) into purchasing a well-worn television set, they glimpse ‘TV advertising’ for the first time and set about saving enough rupee to buy the cheapest menu item - a single slice of what is truly horrible looking pie.
Confidently embracing feature-length storytelling after his critically acclaimed 2010 short ‘Wind’, Manikandan finds joyous rapport amongst his key cast who soar in the film’s first half. The sense of family and the boy’s giddy interaction with the frantic city life in which they exist are two of The Crow’s Eggs strongest assets; the other is beautiful beige puppy that steals scenes with its very presence alone.
Less assured is a class-based subplot that boils to the surface after one of the boys has his dreams shattered with a swift, brutal slap from the pizza store owner. As phone-video footage of the incident goes viral, Manikandan’s sweet, rousing character-driven plotting becomes mired in boardroom bickering, as corporate suits and street-level franchisees argue as to how best handle the PR mess. These scenes are a miscalculation; a long section of the film jettisons the boy’s story altogether, recovering just in time for the fanciful if undeniably feel-good fadeout.
Shooting in his native Tamil language, Manikandan shrewdly eschews the traditional Bollywood dance interludes in favour of a selection of swiftly-edited musical montages that achieve the required upbeat effect. Lazy marketing that posits the film as the Slumdog Millionaire sequel-of-sorts that apparently we have always wanted is doing Manikandan’s bittersweet gem a disservice; The Crow’s Egg lacks the polished veneer of Danny Boyle’s crowd-pleaser, but delivers a far more faithful and resonant depiction of the spirit and integrity of the Indian downtrodden than the Oscar winner ever gets close to.