The Crow’s Egg, or Kaaka Muttai, is a 2014 Tamil film written, directed and filmed by M Manikandan. It was a mega hit at the Indian box office, which is pretty incredible considering the film doesn’t boast a star cast.
The film won two National Awards in India: Best Children’s Film and Best Child Artist – shared by the two co-stars, J Vignesh and V Ramesh. While I wouldn’t call The Crow’s Egg a children’s film, I think it would appeal to a broad audience, adults and young’uns alike.
The Crow’s Egg follows two children in their quest to discover a delight as yet unknown to them: pizza. They live in the slums of Chennai with their mother and grandmother, and trawl the train tracks for lumps of coal falling from the coal trains that pass daily. The small fee they receive for this ‘treasure’ helps their family get by. With their father in jail, their mother can’t afford to send them to school anymore.
The boys have interesting nicknames, Big Crow’s Egg and Little Crow’s Egg, owing to their habit of eating raw crows’ eggs, thieved straight from the nest of the unsuspecting bird. However, they aren’t unkind or overly greedy, selecting just one egg each and leaving one for the crow.
But the crows’ eggs aren’t enough: the boys want pizza. Now. They’ve seen it on TV, in all its saliva-inducing, glistening, melted cheese glory. It’s something so ‘other’ to the curry their mother lovingly prepares each day, which they eat hurriedly and with their hands. It’s also 300 rupees a pop – equivalent to a month of the boys’ earnings.
Of course there are many obstacles between the boys and their pizza other than just monetary ones, each exemplifying the vast rich/poor divide. It seemed that the pizza was merely a symbol for globalisation, whose greedy fingers reach into every pocket in all corners of the world.
Do the boys get their pizza in the end? At what cost? I don’t want to give that away, but it’s an interesting adventure to watch unfold.
It looked as though Vignesh and Ramesh had a great time making the film, and they were a pleasure to behold: just the right mix of cheeky and earnest. It turns out they were complete newcomers to the screen, discovered by Manikandan while he was out taking reference photos of the Chennai slums prior to filming. He wanted to cast kids who were authentic in their performance so it would match people’s lived experiences. According to one interview I read, the auditions with trained child actors just weren’t up to muster, as they lacked what Manikandan called the “energy” he was looking for.
There are plenty of humorous moments in this film, but the political characters the boys end up embroiled with are far less interesting, and the story drags with them somewhat.
The film seems to warn about the inevitability of cultural erosion when globalisation comes to call – but remaining true to yourself is paramount. And when the mainstream media get hold of a juicy story, even authentic arguments can become parodies of themselves. Manikandan was clever in his portrayal of this and brought the story to a nice end, albeit a somewhat predictable one.
The Crow’s Egg is a beautifully made film, perhaps owing to Manikandan’s former life as a photographer. He created some beautiful, moving images for a first-time filmmaker, and I’m eager to keep an eye on his future work.
In honour of the film I was about to see, I picnicked on some pizza in the grounds of the Somerville Auditorium beforehand, and the flavours lingered long afterward. Pizza never tasted so sweet.
The Crow’s Egg is now showing as part of Lotterywest Festival Films, Season 1. At UWA Somerville nightly until Sunday 20 December, then at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday 22 to Sunday 27 December (no film on Christmas Day). Tickets/more info: perthfestival.com.au
Gemma Sidney is a writer and marketing & communications specialist based in Perth, Western Australia. She has over ten years of professional experience in Perth and abroad, speaks French, and very much enjoys wordplay and good grammar. You can hear her reviews of Lotterywest Festival Films on Tuesdays at 7.30am on RTR FM.