THE CROW'S EGG/ KAAKKAA MUTTAI, India, 2014. Directed by M. Manikandan. 91 minutes. Rated PG (no consumer information)
The Crows Egg is a Tamil film from the city of Chennai (formerly Madras). Films from the industries on India’s west coast, from Kolkotta and Chennai, tend to be dramas and comedies without the colourful romantic song and dance of Bollywood, from Mumbai and the east coast.
Many were surprised when Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar for Best Film in 2008. Before and since there have been many slumdog films and this is one of them, something like Slumdog Pizza. Blog reports from India indicate that the Indian population really warms to this film.
The focus of the story is a family in the slums, father is in jail, mother works and tries to raise money to pay a lawyer to help get her husband out of jail (without any results). Her mother-in-law lives at home, sitting and getting older, giving advice to the two young boys who have to go out to collect coal, especially that falling from the trains as they pass, to get money for the family rather than go to school. There are quite a number of children with similar lives in these slums.
The boys, generally smiling, even when the younger one has problems, as in the opening of the film, with wetting his bed mat. The go out to play, give rice to the local crows and climb up to the nest so that they can drink the yolk from the crows’ eggs. They nickname themselves as Crow’s Egg.
Their lives are fairly routine, but, on the whole, they seem to enjoy them, not having had the opportunity to live better in any way. Until their playground is taken over, a building is put up and it turns out to be a Pizza Parlour. They have no idea what pizza is but they are attracted by the multi-coloured flyer, even persuading their grandmother to try to reproduce it.
They spend a lot of the film collecting the coal, helped by a friend who guides them to a government store and they gradually build up the money, only to be rejected at the Pizza Spot for being dirty urchins. Their next goal is to buy clothes so that they can be respectable as they try to get pizza.
In case this is too schmaltzy (which, in many ways, it is), there is a subplot about financial wheeler dealings to buy property, to put up buildings, to line the pockets of officials…
It comes to a head when the manager of the Pizza Spot actually punches the older boy – and it has been filmed on a mobile phone, leading to TV exposition, TV panels, discussions about the wealthy and the poor, politicians getting in on the act, locals trying to extort money from the Pizza boss, and, without spoiling the ending, no surprise when they get a free pizza (and then turn up their noses at it).
A family film, more attuned to family audiences and younger audiences than Slumdog Millionaire, audiences identifying with the boys who, for most of the film, seem to have as their goal, money, money, money – but, of course, they discover their generosity at the end.
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released 19th November.