ANITA AND ME
Meena (Chandeep Uppal) is the 12 year old daughter of Indian parents (Ayesha Dharker and Sanjeev Bhaskar) who live in the mining village of Tollington, in 1972. Her suburban life surrounded by eccentric relatives and friends is disrupted by the arrival of 14 year old Anita Rutter (Anna Brewster), who is blonde, outrageous and sassy – everything Meena thinks she wants to be. But life is complicated with the arrival of a baby brother, teenage hormones and the pressure of impending entrance exams for the posh grammar school.
Review by Louise Keller:
Although Anita and Me will undoubtedly be compared to Bend It Like Beckham with its story of two young girls rebelling against their cultures and hormones, this coming of age story is more of a study about life in a small-minded village. The Indian culture is very much at odds with the overtly suburban English one. Like Jess who has a dream of playing soccer like David Beckham, Meena dreams of becoming a writer and jots down her secret thoughts in a locked diary. Her dream is non-specific and the mining village of Tollington in the British Midlands is far away from everywhere. It seems quite strange for an Indian girl to speak with such a broad regional accent and she is very much a fish-out-of water. While her parents wear Indian clothes and live a traditional Indian life, Meena was born in England and doesn’t really belong anywhere. (She would rather dig in to fish ‘n chips than eat the usual Indian spicy fare). Her parents gravitate towards anyone who is Indian and bring them home as though they were relations, much to the disdain of the neighbours. Then Meena meets the town’s bad-girl Anita, who is everything Meena aspires to be – blonde and sexy. They have a push-pull relationship, and Meena’s concerned parents are against the friendship. Set in the 70s, there’s an undercurrent of racism – even the black poodle is called Nigger, and the songs of the era - like In the Summertime, Ruby and Neverending Love to take us on a musical carpet ride. The effective use of music reminds me a little of how music was used in Billy Elliot – to great effect. There is no great dramatic curve in the story, but we explore the lifestyle and get to know the people of Tollington. It’s the characters who endear themselves to us. Characters like Mrs Ormerod (Lynn Redgrave, almost unrecognisable) who, unsuccessfully, tries to keep the girls from pinching lollies from her corner store, Uncle Alan the hippy vicar and Grandma who visits from India and causes a stir. The two leading roles (Chandeep Uppal and Anna Brewster) are played by two newcomers from Birmingham, and both are naturals. Uppal has an ugly duckling quality that is appealing, while Brewster effuses confidence. Wonderful performances, too, by Ayesha Dharker and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Meena’s parents, who bring the taste and authenticity of India herself to England. It’s a sweet chapter in the life of a young girl battling to identify with her roots and environment, although it never reaches the heights that Bend It Like Beckham achieves.
Review by David Edwards:
Seems the experience of Asian migrants to the UK is a popular topic; with the likes of East is East and Bend it Like Beckham having already hit our screens. Now comes Anita and Me, and while this film has its moments, it suffers by comparison with those earlier films. Based on Meera Syal’s autobiography, the screenplay (also penned by Syal) unfortunately tries to cram far too much into this coming-of-age tale. Between problems at school, attempts at being a writer, relatives from India, song-and-dance numbers, racism, domestic violence, motorways, a hairy recluse, 70s fashions and disputes over funds for the local church, there’s precious little time left in the film’s 92 minutes running time to develop the central relationship. Precisely why Meera is attracted to Anita or what she learns from their interaction is dealt with in such a perfunctory manner, that it gets completely lost. Indeed, the whole film eventually collapses to become little more than a series of vignettes dealing with a range of issues. Not that some of these aren’t interesting in themselves, but they fail to coalesce into a meaningful narrative. At times it feels like director Metin Huseyin and Syal are simply going through a checklist of topics to be confronted. At other times though, the scenes work well, and make their point effectively; and among these, the scenes involving the visit of Meera’s grandmother from India are standouts. It also has to be said that the mostly young cast struggles with the material. Chandeep Uppal brings a nice charm to Meera, but she clearly has difficulty in the more emotional scenes; while Anna Brewster is frankly rather bland as the supposed wild-child Anita. It’s left to the more experienced actors, notably Sanjeev Bhaskar and Ayesha Dharker as Meera’s parents, to carry the film. While they make a good fist of their individual roles, they’re too marginalised to make a real impact on the whole production. Anita and Me is a well-meaning but uneven film. Just as you warm to one character, the film takes off in another direction, making it a rather incoherent and unsatisfying film experience. Still, fans of East is East and its ilk might find enough here to make it worthwhile.
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ANITA AND ME (M)
CAST: Chandeep Uppal, Anna Brewster, Ayesha Dharker, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kabir Bedi, Max Beesley, Kathy Burke, Omid Djalili, Lynn Redgrave
PRODUCER: Paul Raphael
DIRECTOR: Metin Hüseyin
SCRIPT: Meera Syal (novel by Meera Syal)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Cinders Forshaw
EDITOR: Annie Kocur
MUSIC: Nitin Sawhney
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Caroline Hanania
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 1, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: September 24, 2002
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