Since time immemorial, children as a section of audience have continued to be largely neglected by the Indian film industry. Though there have been memorable kiddie flicks like Chotta Chetan & Mr India, they have been by far very few in number.
Anjali focussed mainly on a child protagonist, though one cannot term it as a kiddie flick in entirety given the subject that the film dealt with.
Chitra (Revathi) and her husband Shekhar (Raghuvaran) are awaiting the birth of their third child. However after the delivery, Shekhar announces that the child died during birth but a few years later Chirta learns that the child (Shamili as Anjali) had not died but was born with a damaged brain and was left at the care of the hospital. The rest of the film follows the trials and tribulations that the family has to face while taking care of the child.
It is never easy for parents to raise children born with deformities, but the society is more than often reluctant to accept such people given the hypocritical nature of mankind and culture. Mani Ratnam has highlighted this fact very beautifully through this film.
How does one infer a person to be sane or insane? Can a person be judged unfit for the society only due to the fact that the person is not able to behave and understand things the way normal people are expected to? Anjali raises these and many other uncomfortable questions during the course of the film. It also makes us re-examine our perspective of looking at people.
Mani Ratnam is one of the very few film makers who are able to merge their artistic and cinematic sensibilities very well. ‘Anjali’ is a brilliant example of the same. A story dealing with a mentally affected protagonist is a totally dry subject with very little scope for providing any entertainment value. In Anjali , the serious subject of the movie is very well balanced with the entertaining moments provided by the dozen odd children who play very important roles in the movie. This makes the film appealing for kids as well to people who are keen to watch cinema which is sensible, meaningful yet entertaining.
The interaction between the children provides the film with many memorable moments. Like the friendly banter between the first two children of Chitra and Shekhar, Arjun (Tarun) and Anu(Shruthi). Their fights, mischief, sibling love is depicted very sweetly and realistically. I am pretty sure, everybody must be reminded of their siblings more than often while watching the movie. The interactions between the neighbourhood kids and the brother sister duo of Arjun & Shruthi form an integral part of many memorable scenes in the movie. Like the fight between Arjun & another kid, the way kids harmlessly spy on neighbours, the commotion created by kids during a society committee meeting and the acceptance of Anjali by the children. All these scenes in a way also remind the viewer of their childhood days in a very sweet way.
For any mentally challenged person to be accepted by the society, the concerned person’s family has to first accept them wholeheartedly the way they are. And the acceptance though imminent is not easy.
I really liked the way the relationship develops between Anjali & her siblings. Especially the way Arjun ‘s character transforms and develops a bond with Anjali. From his initial reluctance to fiercely protecting Anjali when the neighbourhood kids make fun of her, the way the brotherly instincts emerge in the boy is shown very nicely. Thereafter the scene in which Anjali realises that he has been badly hurt while protecting her and tries to console him and they realise each other’s existence is a wonderful and heart warming scene. The protective concern shown by the parents is also very nicely depicted and the way Anjali’s mother yearns for her acceptance is especially hard to forget.
The average middle class lifestyle is depicted realistically in true Mani Ratnam fashion. The depiction of the mischievous kids, the neighbouring lovebirds and other small nuances of life in a middle class housing society is a joy to watch.
At the same time, the hypocritical nature of people is shown in a mildly contrasting way. Especially the indifference and reluctance shown towards accepting criminals, differently abled people and other such kind of people. A fact which Prabhu Ganesan’s character emphasises on in a scene when he says it is fine to accept people who indulge in extra marital affairs, domestic abuse etc. but when it comes to accepting differently abled people, it is a cause of concern.
Hindi films have always portrayed mentally ill people as raving, mad lunatics behaving in a very idiotic manner. As a result of this, portrayals of such characters have often been annoying and highly ‘caricartured . The most recent example being Priyadarshan’s ‘Kyonki’. However if it is Mani Ratnam’s illustration of such a character, how can it not be sensitive and different? The character of Anjali is shown in a very authentic and receptive way.
Illaiya Raja’s music is as usual poignant, creating the right effect for every scene without resorting to an excess of it. However, most of the songs in the Hindi version sound indifferent and are lost in translation. The two songs Raathri Nerathil (don’t know what it is called in Hindi) & Magic Journey which is Mani sir’s homage to Star Wars & E.T respectively deserve a mention. Though these songs on screen may seem tacky now, I am pretty sure had this film been made now, the picturisation of these songs would have been a highlight of the movie given the latest visual effects facilities that are available.
Madhu Ambat’s cinematography is simply stunning and very well conveys the mood of the movie and the characters. I particularly found the lighting patterns used for different characters very interesting . Whenever Anjali comes on the screen and the camera focuses on her, the lighting is very bright and radiant. Perhaps the intention was to convey the ray of hope and cheer her character brings into people’s lives.
Extracting performances out of kids is no mean feat. Earlier Shekhar Kapoor notably did a very good job of the same in Masoom and Mr. India. Mani Sir had an even tougher task on hand when directing a 3 yr old kid on whom an entire film is focussed. Who had thought that a 3 yr old girl would become an immortal celluloid character? Armed with bare verbal action and only endearing gestures and natural mannerisms, Shamili delivered a wonderful and endearing performance as Anjali. Thanks to Mani Ratnam , the character is simply unforgettable and absolutely adorable. It is hard not to end up liking her. She recently debuted as a lead actress alongside Siddharth(Of Rang De Basanti fame) in the Telugu film ‘Oy!’
Tarun and Shruthi who were cast as Anjali’s siblings were also wonderful. Their performances were very well nuanced and believable; the rest of the kids had also acted very well in their limited screen time. The kids even won a national award for their wonderful performances.
Often cast in negative roles, the most notable being as Bhavani in RGV’s Shiva, Raghuvaran was a revelation in the role of Anjali’s father. He gave an extremely believable and convincing performance as a protective and a caring father, who is ready to confront anyone when it comes to protecting his daughter. With his performance in Anjali, he proved that he was truly a versatile actor. It is also to the credit of Mani Ratnam for casting him in a role that is different from the usual on screen persona of Raghuvaran. Revathi gave another graceful performance as the mother of Anjali. The way she yearns and struggles for her daughter to accept is particularly endearing.
The then much slimmer Prabhu Ganesan also gave a wonderful performance in a short screen time as an ex-convict whom the society denies the chances of reforming. The character of Prabhu also highlights Ratnam’s ability to develop all the characters and give them immense significance in his movies.
A special mention must also be made for the late G Venkateswaran , Ratnam’s brother for wholeheartedly supporting and believing in Mani Sir’s creative endeavours by producing his films from Mouna Raagam.
I remember as a kid I would end up feeling sad once the film ended, due to which I would avoid watching this film again many a times back then. Even now when I watched it several years later, the film still had a similar effect on me. Like most of Mani Ratnam’s movies, Anjali is a brilliant and memorable film depicting a real life issue in a very genuine and heartfelt manner.
Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:
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