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Reviews - The Crow's Egg

The Crow's Egg

Reviewed By Stephen Pye

The Crow's Egg
The Crow's Egg
It's been described as a home-grown Indian version of "Slumdog Millionaire" and having wowed many a festival audience (including the London Indian Film Festival one this summer), it's getting a limited release around London and Birmingham now.

"The Crow's Egg" or "Kaakkaa Muttai", a film in Tamil was made in 2014 and was internationally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that year. The title comes from a staple source of food for street urchins who often pinch bird eggs. Ramesh and J Vignesh had no acting experience and were recruited from a slum area. Directed by M Manikandan and produced by well-known Tamil film actor-producer Dhanush, the film centres around two slum dwelling boys, who dream of eating Pizza in a fast food outlet in Chennai, but simply can't afford it. It sets them on an odyssey and allows director Manikandan to explore the consequences of globalisation and consumerist culture but from a very Indian perspective.

The two boys – who play 'brothers', 'Chinna Kaakkaa Muttai' (nicknamed 'small crow egg') – Ramesh and 'Periya Kaakkaa Muttai' ('big crow egg') – J Vignesh are actual slum dwellers cast in their roles. The pair won an India National Film Award for best child artist and at the same time the film picked up Best Children's Film. The Tamil-only speaking director Manikandan explained his decision not to use professional actors. Crudely, the slum children gave him something much more natural but it wasn't totally trouble free. "I initially tested professional child actors but you could see that they were acting — they act in TV serials, so they are trained and that was very visible," revealed Manikandan. "That is when I decided that using actual slum kids will be the best method. They have so much energy and roam on the streets with an abandon that you cannot find in other kids. I know how much time my son will take to cross the road. But these kids do so in a carefree manner and cross the road in a jiffy," he said in production interview for distributors, Fox Star Studios.

Manikandan deployed a special way of getting the most out of the children's natural ability. He said they were trained to forget about the camera and there were two cameras always rolling and most crucially one boy didn't know what the other was going to say or do. "I would be giving different information to the two of them. That way their reactions to what the other is saying would look natural. I never instructed them together – so one wouldn't know what the other is thinking or about to do."

Manikandan said Ramesh and J Vignesh were more excited flying from Chennai to New Delhi for the awards than they were actually receiving such an accolade. "The award doesn't mean a thing to them. It's only the plane ride that mattered," he said.

The film did well in India when it was released there this summer and it's continued to play at festivals around the world – it screened at the Leeds Film Festival last November. The film has changed the lives of Ramesh and J Vignesh and not just them – in fact all the children in the film have benefitted from "The Crow's Egg" success. Manikandan explained: "Dhanush Sir has announced that he will bear the expenses of their education till they finish college. This, he has announced not just for the two boys, but for all the six kids in the film."

It's also been a great triumph for Manikandan himself as a first time feature director and the man whose story moved from an idea to an actual film.
The film which could be described as "lightweight" and was uneven in parts was nonetheless much appreciated by the audience at the Alhambra. Perhaps we were appreciative of something a little less taxing but with its own delights nonetheless.

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