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Posts Tagged ‘M. Manikandan’

This blog entry contains spoilers.

In both its choice of subject matter and its style, M. Manikandan’s The Crow’s Egg (2014) is clearly designed to appeal to the international market rather than the local audience and Tamil diaspora. (I mean that as an observation, not a criticism.) Like Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which was a big hit practically everywhere but India, the movie is about the effects of neoliberalism on slum kids from the urban centres. But while the protagonist of Boyle’s film strikes it rich on an English-language game show — an unlikely rags-to-riches story which the movie posits as being emblematic of the nation as a whole — in Manikandan’s film, India’s economic rise leaves the kids worse off than they already were when a developer paves over the park where they commune with nature by eating raw crow’s eggs to make way for a pizza restaurant, which they can’t even step inside of.

For much of its length, the film resembles such neo-realist hand-me-downs as Children of Heaven (1997) and Wadjda (2012) in which adorable kids living in third world countries formulate modest goals and then pursue them with monomaniacal fervour. Here, two brothers (nicknamed Big Crow’s Egg and Little Crow’s Egg) who’ve never tasted pizza save up to buy one by collecting pieces of coal that fall from moving trains — as apt a metaphor for trickle-down economics as we’re likely to get. But when they go to the restaurant, the security guard turns them away on account of their ratty clothes. This leads to a clichéd scene in which the two brothers make a deal with a pair of spoiled rich kids, buying them some inexpensive sweets their father won’t let them have in exchange for their new clothes, which they don’t want anyway. (Conveniently, both sets of brothers wear the same sizes.) But when the two Eggs go back to the restaurant, the security guard turns them away again.

At this point in the story, the two brothers abandon their goal and are largely absent from the second half of the movie, which centres on a pair of opportunists who try to blackmail the restaurant manager after coming into possession of a video showing him slapping one of the kids on the ear. When the video winds up on the news, the manager’s lackey promises ominously to “take care” of the matter, and when the kids don’t go home that night, we’re supposed to infer that he’s murdered them. Only later do we learn the kids spent the night with a middle-aged man nicknamed Fruit Juice (which isn’t creepy for some reason) but forgot to tell their mother about it. In other words, the narration misleads us — or at least tries to; there’s never any sense the kids are in real danger — in order to whip up a phoney crisis when everything is fine, thereby postponing the inevitable happy ending in which the lackey sends a car to bring the kids to the restaurant for a free pizza.

In contrast with most Tamil movies, the film is unusual for its realism, not only in terms of the gritty mise en scène but also the atmospheric soundtrack, which is surely the densest of any Tamil movie I’ve seen. There’s a constant hum of traffic in the distance, and in one sequence, diegetic Bollywood-style music can be heard coming from an offscreen radio over a shot of the kids walking down a side street. Accordingly, while the score is obvious and clumsy (upbeat when the kids are happy, mournful when they’re sad), it’s still far less emphatic than is customary in Tamil films, where melodramatic wall-to-wall scoring fills in the gap left by the absence of other sounds. But while the movie conforms to the technical norms of American commercial cinema, the story is still too contrived for it to “cross-over” to a western audience. Like its characters, the film never fully escapes the ghetto.

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