It is a misnomer to call The Crow’s Egg (Kaaka Muttai in Tamil) a children’s movie. Though it received India’s National Award for Best Children’s Film, the story packs in so much more and was a fan favorite at the festival. It only narrowly missed out on being India’s official Oscar submission.
The film follows two siblings nicknamed Big Crow’s Egg and Little Crow’s Egg (played by Ramesh and J. Vignesh) in a Chennai slum, whose lives get turned upside down after a developer bulldozes a nearby plot of land and brings a shiny new pizza joint to town.
The boys are fascinated by this strange new food, and a quest for a taste of the stringy, foreign pizza takes center stage. While pizza drives the plot forward, the beauty of the film is found in the vignettes of the characters that inhabit the brothers’ lives and the brothers’ hustle to scrounge up enough money to afford a pizza. We follow the brothers as they scavenge for coal dislodged from passing train cars to sell, cart home passed out drunks for a fee, and try anything else they can imagine that gets them a little closer to their prize.
Crow’s Egg captures it all just right, a wonderful balance of levity and seriousness. It is a testament to the vision of director M. Manikandan and the upbeat score from composer G.V. Prakash Kumar that what is a story premised on deprivation and poverty can draw out such laughter.
The film uses its unique vantage point to poke and prod at India’s stark class divisions and the effects of globalization. Some of the film’s best jabs are reserved for the politicians, media, and business class that are on the lookout for a way to exploit or take advantage of the poor.
For better or worse, Crow’s Egg has garnered comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire. But where Slumdog was criticized by some as a “white man’s imagined India” and a “poverty tour,” Crow’s Egg offers a refreshingly honest take. We see the world through the eyes of the children of the slum without turning them into objects of pity or fascination. Their dignity remains intact.
One of the most powerful scenes comes near the end of the film. Offered the pizza leftovers of the middle-class kid down the street, the brothers turn it down, defiant — they will earn the pizza on their own terms.
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Museum of the Moving Image in New York City screens The Crow’s Egg this Saturday, November 22. For tickets and showtime information, visit the museum’s website.
Ashwin Warrior lives in the California Bay Area and works in non-profit communications, promoting social good and supporting progressive causes and organizations. You can follow him on Twitter at @ashwinwarrior and see other things he’s written here.