The World of Anjali: A Masterpiece by Mani Ratnam

The World of Anjali

A still from the Movie Anjali

A Still from the Movie Anjali

Anjali, a movie by Mani Ratnam, is one of the few films related to disability, child behavior, and psychology. It might not be the highest-grossing film, it might not be a film filled with a star cast, but it still did an outstanding business at the box-office and stirred people’s emotions heavily. The film’s weight is handled entirely on the children’s little shoulders, especially Anjali and her siblings. Disability is taboo in our Indian society; the way Mani dealt with this sensitive story was quite an experiment and astonishing at the same time.

This movie still has a massive impact on current society since the outlook towards intellectually disabled children remains the same. The outrage of bringing up the kids with disabilities, the wagging-tongues of our community are depicted clearly. The maturity and sensitivity to handle these kinds of special kids were displayed movingly by Maniratnam (I call it a gentle satire on our judgmental society). I consider Anjali as the Maniratnam masterpieces. The movie narrates the story of a family dealing with a mentally disabled kid vs. the parent’s vs. society.

The Back Story of Anjali

Chitra and Shekar are a happy couple with two kids and going to expect a new one. One day Chitra is rushed to the hospital to deliver her third kid, but things go haywire, and Chitra comes to know that kid is stillborn. By understanding, this Chitra gets devastated and goes into depression. Later after few years, the family slowly forgets about the stillborn child and moves to a new city and new gated-community filled with lots of kids. Initially, the community kids didn’t cope with the kids (Arjun & Anu), but they slowly accept and make them part of their gang. These kid gangs are mostly involved in pulling pranks and creating a kind of chaos in the community.

Shekar & his family shifts to New Apartment

Shekar & his family shifts to New Apartment

Chitra Knows the truth about Anjali

After some misunderstandings and a chain of events between Chitra and Shekar, Chitra knows about the dark secret that her husband was hiding from her for two years. Shekar spills the beans and narrates the stillborn story, and says, “Anjali is not dead but was hidden in a mentally disabled center due to her health condition.”

Chitra utterly shocks by this revelation and confronts Shekar, and he explains I have taken this decision to safeguard her health since doctors confirmed that she couldn’t stay more than a couple of months in this world. Initially, Chitra was saddened by this betrayal but later understood her husband and begs him to take her to her kid.

Anjali Arrives at her Home

Finally, Anjali is taken to her home. The judgmental society in the apartment passes comments about the kid’s condition and treats her very oddly. Even though Shekar’s family is in a metro city and an apartment filled with well-educated people, the family has to face the social-stigma of raising a mentally disabled kid. Maniratnam projected the minds of Indian society in general and also their conservative nature towards the disabled people. Even in this modern era, the practice of ill-treating disabled persons is in full-swing, and taking care of these special kids is considered taboo and contemptuous in our so-called society.

Anjali is not a normal kid and should be continuously taken care of; her parents’ act enrages the other kids. They start showing an extreme dislike towards Anjali. Moreover, the kid gang in the colony teases Anjali one day, seeing this Arjun, the elder brother of her, loses his cool and involves fighting with other kids. Arjun gets badly bruised in this fight; seeing this, the little Anjali touches Arjun and saddens by seeing him; this causes a special bond between Anjali and her siblings.

The bond between Anjali and her Siblings

Mani Ratnam captured this one particular scene very cautiously, keeping the child psychology in mind. When Arjun and Anu become extremely disappointed after Anjali’s arrival. Shekar handles the kids very calmly and explains that “Special kids like her are Angles sent by the god to a special brother and sister to care of her with special love and care. He explains that is the reason¬† she is with us and hopes you people will take care of the little Anjali.” The way Shekar explains & how he tackled his kids with sensitivity describes how tender age kids should be treated in awkward situations.

Anjali Be-friends the Ex-convict

After the bond between the Anjali and siblings one day, Arjun challenges the other kids in the colony to fight with him if they don’t accept Anjali. But the colony kids react differently and accept Anjali, and from then, the innocence of Anjali wins the heart of the colony kids, and everyone in the gang starts liking her and treats her like a little princess.

Anjali, in the process, also befriends the ex-convict in the colony, when most of the people even fear talking to him. “We as humans show difference based upon color, race, caste, religion, and character, but kids like her, being mentally disabled, knows how to make other smile and only knows how to stay innocent amid all the chaos in this damn world.” Small gestures exchanged between the convict and Anjali show the brilliantness of Maniratnam in tackling the little kids.

The closeness of Anjali with the colony kids worries the families in the colony since she is not a normal kid. The colony association calls for a meeting and explains the scene to Chitra and Shekar. Shekar reacts extremely and leaves the place. The only person to argue with the association is the Ex-convict. He questions like, “An alcohol addict, a violent husband, and a convict like him can stay in the colony, but what is wrong with the innocent kid.”

Suddenly silence prevails in the meetings, and from then, the little kid wins over everyone in the colony and becomes the favorite kid in the territory. Here the Ace director Maniratnam is pointing not only at the colony but our society altogether. We see many such instances in our community, and this culture of mistreating disable people has become a common practice in our society. Mani projected the deep-rooted & ill-minded society and shot the sequence with thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

A Moment of Tragedy

Meanwhile, Shekar happens to visit his construction site to meet the clients. Anjali and his wife Chitra accompany Shekar. Shekar witnesses a murder and reports it to the police. The murderer gets out of jail with bail, visits the Shekar house to kill him. To everyone’s surprise, the ex-convict with whom Anjali befriended comes to the rescue and kills the murderer. While he is taking to the police station, he thanks Shekar and quotes like, “your daughter is the only person in the society who showed compassion towards me, and I’m grateful for that.”

Here the director takes us to the conflicting emotions of an ex-convict and his relationship with Anjali. The little one’s love and affection towards the ex-convict made him realize that compassion still exists in this world, but it is in the form of little kids like her. He then happily goes to jail and far from this atrocious society.

Anjali Passes Away

The next morning Anjali’s sister Anu goes to wake up Anjali, but her efforts go in vain. She then rushes to her brother Arjun, and he tries to wake her up but with no luck. Shekar thumps the chest of Anjali to wake her up. Meanwhile, Anu screams and gathers the society kid’s gang. Anu loses her control, and in grief, she starts shouting and pleads her mother, father, and brother to wake up Anjali, but Anjali is no more. The sudden demise of Anjali leaves everyone in the colony with tears and especially the colony kids.

My Experience with this Movie

Anjali talks about the sensitive subject of mentally ill children suffering’s and their challenges with their families and society. Director Maniratnam portrayed the naughty, mischievous, innocent, and also smart nature of the children.

The acting skills of the kids Arjun (Tarun), Anu (Shruti Vijaykumar), and Anjali (Shamali) are enthralling. Significantly Anu outperformed everyone in the final part of the movie. Her emotions towards her sister remain as one of the best performances by a child artist. The Trio Arjun, Anu, and Anjali received a national award for the best child artist. Anjali only utters two to three words in the movie and still managed to draw the whole limelight with her innocent and lovely expressions.

Chitra (Revathi) ultimately became a part of the plot, and it looks like she is not acting but displaying herself fully. The way she pampers Anjali and the way she suffers when Anjali is reluctant to accept her affection describes the motherly love of Chitra subtly. What is your reaction when your kid won’t show any love or respect towards you? It is hard to explain, right?

Shekar’s (Raghuvaran) affection and caring towards Anjali is the major highlight of the movie. In the first place, He understands that Anjali can’t survive in this world for long, so he lies to Chitra that she is stillborn, but in secrecy, he takes care of Anjali silently, moaning by himself without losing hope & courage. The efforts he takes to protect Anjali and his suffering are testimony to a father’s love. Shekar remains a stubborn father who goes to any height to protect her kids and even doesn’t mind lying to his wife.

The use of natural light and the room in which Anjali is taken care of is set in a dimmed lightroom, reflecting both the mother and the daughter’s sad feelings. The slow-motion dance sequences and the positioning of the camera at a low angle look pretty cool. Hollywood movies like Star wars and Extraterrestrial served as the primary source to choreograph few songs. Since it was a child movie, Mani experimented with the songs by getting lots of inspiration from the movie climax, i.e., Extraterrestrial. We can see the cycles flying in the air and making a circle around the moon. The graphics and cinematography (Madhu Ambat) skills displayed in these songs show the director’s optimistic thinking.

Anjali in her Room

Anjali in her Room

The music in the movie was perfectly blended and mesmerized the audience with the magic spell. The incredible background score of Ilaiyaraaja is one of the movie’s major highlights and helped elevate every scene emotionally. This movie also has some fantastic choreography by Sundaram master that adds style and grace to the film. The dance sequences of the children are a treat to watch.

I recently watched this movie, and the impact it created on my brain is tough to explain. I have slowly slipped into the world of Anjali and drenching in it for quite a few days, and it is hard to eliminate the constant visuals of Anjali. At the same time, my heart is craving and asking me to time travel and go back to those vintage days (Far from this current technocratic world) filled with lots of peace & joy.

Maniratnam conveyed his message to the society where the privileged and educated people seem to be ill-minded and people with the deprived mind as large-hearted and more mature. In this movie, there is no hero. The protagonist is the little girl Anjali. I wonder how she could manage to provide the expressions and emotional needs of a scene and in front of the camera at that tender age.

I will give full credit to Mani Ratnam for bringing up this sensitive subject with ease. This film was released thirty years ago but still relevant today & the current hypocritical society still needs more movies like this. Anjali will stand out as one of the impactful child literature movies and inspire future generations. These kinds of films should be re-released and should be protected for ages to come.

References:

  • https://www.filmcompanion.in/features/tamil-features/tamil-movies-mani-ratnam-30-years-of-anjali-child-actor-turned-sound-engineer-anand-krishnamoorthi-looks-back-at-his-time-on-the-sets-of-the-film/
  • https://goodtamilfilms.wordpress.com/tag/anjali-review-mani-ratnam/http://ijellh.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/86.-R.Tamil-Selvi-paper-final.pdf
  • https://thefederal.com/the-eighth-column/disability-30-yrs-after-anjali-indian-cinema-is-as-cold-and-indifferent-as-ever/
  • https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/jagan-krishnan-on-why-anjali-and-boys-remain-special-to-this-day/article29243379.ece
  • https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-place-where-children-always-find-the-spotlight/article33093982.ece
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anjali_(1990_film)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mani_Ratnam
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mugur_Sundar
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhu_Ambat
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilaiyaraaja
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamili
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revathi
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raghuvaran
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarun_Kumar

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