In this boy's own Indian adventure, slightness reigns supreme for superficially pleasing but emotionally trite results.
When it comes to films about children, there’s the cute and there’s the cloying. When it comes to depictions of impoverished communities around the world, there’s the considered and there’s the celebratory. Falling on the latter side of both doesn’t necessarily make for a bad film, but it does temper realism and resonance. It’s that magical rather than meaningful perspective that is on display in The Crow's Egg (Kaakkaa Muttai), as well as a strong blast of Indian music.
As the movie’s many montages show, times are tough for two slum-dwelling brothers (Ramesh and Ramesh Thilaganathan). In big and little versions, each is named from the film’s title and for their penchant for consuming actual crow’s eggs straight from the nest, a key source of sustenance in their meager existence. While their factory-worker mother (Aishwarya Rajesh) tries to save money for their imprisoned father’s legal fees, they scavenge rupees by salvaging coal from along the railway line, and dream of a better life. Then a shiny new franchise pizzeria opens in their neighbourhood, and the boys have a new pursuit: getting their first taste of this exotic – to them – Italian dish by any means necessary.
Clearly vying for a boy’s own adventure vibe, plenty of fun takes centre stage as the intrepid twosome try to make their culinary dreams a reality. There are also ample setbacks that provide humorous diversions that sustain the thin narrative, of the age, setting, and theme-appropriate kind. Both are matched by the upbeat score, overused and blared loud over much of the content, but clearly reinforcing the intended jaunty, jovial tenor from start to finish. Indeed, the same remains true even during director M. Manikandan’s brief excursions into darker territory.
An optimistic atmosphere is cultivated, showering affection on the two cheeky protagonists; however charm and camaraderie only goes so far. When the episodic effort endeavours to contemplate its chosen cross-section of Indian society, and attempts to canvass broader issues of class discrimination, the dismal conditions of the working poor, and the divide springing up just steps away, it simply can’t reconcile its seriousness with its sweetness. A sense of disjointedness marks the combination, just as it marks the overall presentation. Overt exuberance is inescapable, but not always suitable or smartly handled.
Accordingly, in style and in story, slightness reigns supreme for superficially pleasing but emotionally trite results. Manikandan’s movie is aesthetically indistinctive in its parade of bland shots, missing both the energy and the observation of the aspired-to Bollywood and social realist genres. In the narrative, honesty may be the driving force, but trying to package a downtrodden plight in saccharine trivialities proves as uneven as it sounds. The performances easily become the movie’s most consistent component, broad and over-done as they may be like the film itself, but offering the one aspect truly brimming with the requisite earnestness beyond the enthusiasm.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
The Crow's Egg (Kaakkaa Muttai)
Director: M. Manikandan
India, 2014, 99 mins
Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival
29 November – 14 December