In a nutshell: The Crow’s Egg is charming to a point, with the two cute kids in the lead roles doing a great job – but this feel-good tale of poverty-based injustice righted is compromised through being over-cooked and sanitised
Featuring: Ramesh, J. Vignesh, Iyshwarya Rajesh
Writer/Director: M. Manikandan
2015-16 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 14-20 Dec, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 22-27 Dec, 8pm
Little Crow’s Egg and Big Crow’s Egg are two young slum kids from Chennai. Their names derive from their stealing crow’s eggs in the belief that they will build strength from the consumed contents. They live with their mother and grandmother in a tiny room with a dirt floor and basic cooking and sanitation facilities. Their harried mother toils to finance a lawyer to free her husband/their father, who is in jail.
When a pizza parlour opens in an adjacent well-to-do suburb, the boys are consumed with curiosity and dream of sharing a pizza, which for them is prohibitively expensive. Saving the petty cash they earn from selling pieces of coal they scavenge from the nearby railway tracks will take forever, so they must find another way to attain their modest holy grail.
Of course, it’s a given in a feel-good fable like this that they’ll succeed. It’s the how that’s the point, and the lessons the characters – and we – learn en route. The former is handled well via some deftly managed narrative twists and turns that afford glimpses into the culture (such as the divide between the slum dwellers and the monied classes, and rituals observed by the slum community on the death of one of their own). However, the depiction of the slum is sanitised, and particularly the lives of the kids who live there. They are shown playing cricket, laughing and joking like any kids anywhere, save for a bit of dirt and some rubbish underfoot. Telling, too, that the kids’ income is sourced from a railway track, rather than rubbish-sorting in putrid tips, which is the lot of so many slum-dwellers in the real world.
The villain of the piece is the wealthy businessman who owns the pizza parlour and his cohorts who keep slum folk away from their establishment so as not to alienate their well-heeled clientele. When one of the managers is shot on video slapping Big Crow’s Egg to the ground in front of the pizza joint, the media gets hold of the footage and whips up national outrage.
The press reports of the incident are full of unrealistically over-the-top self-righteous bluster that builds to a near-hysterical pitch. Under an avalanche of scorn and damaging publicity, the pizza parlour owner is not only forced to make good with Big Crow’s Egg and his little bro, but is humiliated in the full glare of the media spotlight. There is the uncomfortable sense that he is all-too-convenient a scapegoat. The wrong now righted, the sacrificial lamb now slaughtered, the middle classes are free to return to their comfortable lives with a clear conscience – all for the price of a pizza for two poor slum kids.
Those less prone to such sternly judgemental interpretations may well find the movie charming, humorous and entertaining (if somewhat melodramatic in its later stages). Fair enough, if you choose to take a movie like this purely on its own terms. Certainly, the two kids who play the leads are endearing and do a great job in their roles.
In my view, though, the strategy a la Slumdog Millionaire of plucking cute kids from slums for starring roles in feel-good movies that minimise the appalling squalor of their real lives and project them into a happy-ending fantasy tale is salve for the conscience of the middle classes and strictly for the blinkered, however morally honourable the intentions of the filmmakers.
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