With more than a touch of Slumdog Millionaire about it, this is a funny, touching and unlikely tale of two mischievous brothers who live with their mother and grandmother in a Chennai slum. Their father is in jail, and although there are a couple of scenes in the movie between he and his wife, we never find out why. Rather, the focus is the young brothers’ dream of getting their first slice of pizza – I kid you not.
Like Slumdog, The Crow’s Egg blends a form of harsh realism with charming fantasy. This family lives in crowded squalor in a tiny concrete and tin home, among hundreds of other families in the same predicament. Yet, for their lack of resources, they appear relatively happy. The kids enjoy running around. The youngest, in particular, has virtually a permanent grin tattooed on his face. He and his big brother are known as Little and Big Crow’s Egg respectively because they enjoy pinching the black bird’s eggs from his nest and gulping down the contents. They are nothing if not industrious and they help their mother make ends meet while dad is in prison by collecting coal from beside the railway tracks.
One day they spot the opening of a shiny, new pizza restaurant and the eldest lad gets it into his head that he has to try this new delicacy. The problem is that the pizzeria has set its prices so that it is only affordable to the rich, despite where it is positioned (near the slum). To these youngsters even a small pizza is worth a king’s ransom and yet they won’t let the idea of eating the rich chewy dish die. So begins a concerted effort to gather enough money to walk into the restaurant, only they encounter a series of unexpected hurdles. In time these hindrances will not only involve the two youngsters but the entire slum.
In his feature debut, which he has written, shot and directed, M. Manikandan uses this simple tale to paint a vivid portrait of urban child poverty in South India, but it is one of hope and initiative rather than despair. These brothers see all the obstacles between them and their first slice of pizza as puzzles to be worked out and they’re more than up to the task.
The Crow’s Egg is a feel-good picture, if there ever was one. The story takes an unexpected turn midway through and the cast of colourful, if somewhat dimwitted, characters keeps you entertained and engaged. Although, I must say, I was starting to wonder just where the film could take us and whether the yarn would wear thin before its sudden U-turn.
Most of all, it is element of surprise that is endearing and the cinematography ensures you are right there in the slums, taking in the sights and sounds and smells with the family and their neighbours. The film was shot in the real slums of Chennai with minimal crew. Actual slum kids from the same slum were hand picked and underwent three months of training to get into the skin of their characters and to overcome camera fear.
The Crow’s Egg doesn’t have the intellectual rigour of Slumdog Millionaire, but it is eminently watchable. Rated PG, it scores a 7 to 7½ out of 10.
Director: M. Manikandan
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Ramesh Thilaganathan
Release Date: 19 November 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television