Praas on World Films: IN WHICH ANNIE GIVES IT THOSE ONES (1989, Hindi/English)

 

IN WHICH ANNIE GIVES IT THOSE ONES (1989)

In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones is a 1989 Indian TV film. Screenplay by Arundhati Roy (who also acts in the film), directed by Pradip Krishen, and starring Arjun Raina as the title character, along with Roshan Seth and Shahrukh Khan. This film was the recipient of two National Awards in 1989. Set in the 1970s, In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones is a funny film of architecture students in their final year of college. The film was part autobiographical with Roy recounting her own experiences of studying in the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, a leading architecture institute in India.

Anand Grover, better known as Annie, is victimized for making fun of his principal, Y.D. Billimoria (popularly known as Yamdoot or Hell’s messenger), years ago. At the School of Architecture, New Delhi, Annie is repeating his fifth year for the fourth time. He spends his hours in the hostel which is the best part of his life, by ‘giving it those ones’ — indulging in daydreams of social uplift. His latest idea is to plant fruit trees on either side of railway tracks, where rural India defecates daily. The fecal matter will provide the necessary compost for the trees, while the trains, with sprinklers attached, will automatically water the plants.

Annie keeps two hens in his room and earns a modest sum by selling the eggs, until one day his friend, Mankind, and his Ugandan roommate, Kasozi, make a roasted meal out of them. Soon, however, hirsute Arjun and his girlfriend Radha — a non-conformist student who steals cigarettes from Yamdoot and talks back to the teachers — present Annie with a rabbit.

Many adventures later, the day to submit the thesis draws near. Annie, urged by his friends, apologises to Yamdoot. A panel of judges call the students one by one for their final interviews and the tension mounts. Radha goes dressed in a saree but wears a man’s hat to detract from her sober attire. To make sure that Annie gets a sympathetic hearing from the hostile panel, Radha and Arjun work out a plan. Just when Annie is called in, Yamdoot receives a phone call from his dominating deep-voiced mother, in actuality Mankind. The trick works and the weary panel gives Annie a good grade.

At the party after the graduation ceremony Annie arrives with heavy books under his arm, his hair shaved off and a butterfly painted on his head. He informs his friends that he has decided to study law and then sue Yamdoot. But subsequently, Annie joins the staff at the architecture school and, when Yamdoot retires, even becomes the head of the Department of Design.

“In The 1970’s, Even Delhi Was Swinging”:   A conversation with Director Pradip Krishen

 “So I’ve got a freaked out idea…It’s bloody revolutionary…It could reverse the whole process of urbanization, persuade buggers to stay in their villages instead of screwing themselves up in cities…

 The genius of the plan lies in its bloody simplicity. What I’m proposing is that the government plants fruit trees on either side of the railway track. Fine? All over India. General janta craps around the railway tracks anyway right? So the soil is bloody fertile, haina? Now all you have to do is on every passenger train na, you attach a water carriage with two fountains that spray water on either side? What do you get? One hundred and twenty thousand running kilometers of fruit trees, man!”     –   One of Annie’s late night epiphanies, from “In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones”

The year is 1974, the place is Delhi, and the setting, an architecture college where things have quietly fallen apart. Annie is giving it those ones, which is to say, dreaming impossibly while his academic career sinks like a concrete block. His fellow students – Radha, Mankind, Kasozi and their assorted satellites – are doing their very best to get by, but they’re up against a desultory economy, a cruel world and the twisted bureaucratic imagination of Yamdoot, the messenger of the God of Death: who can blame them for turning to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll?

Pradip Krishen began working on “In Which Annie…” in 1988, and the film was ‘released’ in 1989. Bhaskar Ghose, then head of Doordarshan – India’s state broadcaster – commissioned the film; Arundhati Roy wrote the screenplay. In the time it took to make, heads had rolled at Doordarshan and Pradip and Arundhati’s project – with its casual indolence and louche style – had become a liability. Ultimately, the state broadcaster slipped the film through (slotting it in the graveyard shift, for one night only) and then promptly forgot about it.

One Derek Malcolm dismissal (“You’ll have to change the title because ‘giving it those ones’ doesn’t mean anything in English”) two national awards and twenty years later, “In Which Annie…” might just be the most watchable film you have never actually watched. In fact, it’s something of a hot mess; like a charming, insouciant tramp who accidentally crashes the fashion parade, her flourishes every bit as beautiful as her faults.

Widely rumoured, rarely seen, and never quite matched: it’s not clear if it should be a matter of pride or indignation that the first word on middle-class Indian college life also seems to be the last.

Sadly this brilliant film  IN WHICH ANNIE GIVES IT THOSE ONES  has never made it to DVD to the best of collective knowledge—a few very poor prints have been found  floating around in various dark corners on the internet is pretty much it. Apparently it was not aired again either after the first showing on Doordarshan on late night.   Oh Indian cinema, how you hurt me sometimes!

Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things) wrote and stars in this poignant and funny made-for-TV movie about a group of architecture students at the end of their fifth and final year in 1974 New Delhi. I didn’t really know what to expect; the only thing I knew about it was that a very young Shahrukh Khan has a small role. What a gem it is, though! It’s Chashme Buddoor meets Fast Times At Ridgemont High in its deft portrait of student life and profane humor (and how interesting is it that all three films were made by women?!). There are no songs, and the background music consists mostly of Beatles tunes, which suits the ambience perfectly. The students are a mixed bunch— rebellious hippies, uptight “good” girls, goofy nerds, and the titular Anand “Annie” Grover (Arjun Raina), a hapless loser repeating his fifth year for the fourth time.

School legend has it that Annie ran afoul of the stern and humorless headmaster YD Billimoria (Roshan Seth), nicknamed “Yamdoot” (the messenger of death). Shahrukh explains how, on a dare, Annie went into the staff restroom to take a leak standing next to Yamdoot; apparently this was dastardly enough to guarantee that he would never graduate.

Annie’s friend Arjun (Rituraj) is determined that this will be the year that Annie finally passes his final thesis. Arjun and his girlfriend Radha (Arundhati Roy) are a modern pair; they are very open about their relationship—a fact that Radha’s hostel-mate Lekha (Divya Seth) finds appalling. Arjun has nicknamed Lekha “Lakes,” which infuriates her, although I’ve got no idea why.

Radha overhears Lakes talking about her one morning in the ladies’ room.

Radha is a feisty sort: a staunch feminist and supporter of the poor and downtrodden, and not one to take any insult lying down. On her way to class that same morning she takes care of an eve-teaser (sprays him with ink) and then exacts her revenge on Lakes on the classroom blackboard.

Crystal bowl intact! Hilarious. She’s prickly and arrogant, but I love Radha, and I love Arjun too.

They are funny, sarcastic, cynical and kind-hearted too, especially when it comes to sweet, simple Annie. Yamdoot’s harsh treatment of Annie over the years has brutalized the poor guy, and he has little faith left in his abilities. He doesn’t even really try any more.

Arjun convinces him to apologize to Yamdoot for his long-ago prank, which he does, but to no avail. Yamdoot is a hard taskmaster and very difficult to please. He mocks Annie’s thesis idea, with some justification. Annie’s plan is to urge urban immigrants to go back to their villages by planting fruit trees alongside India’s 60,000 kilometers of railway track, using fountains built onto the sides of trains to water them (his theory is that the soil by the tracks is already very fertile, since many people already use them as a public bathroom). Even his fiancee Bijli (Himani Shivpuri)—a bar dancer—doesn’t think very highly of it.

When Annie is arrested with Bijli in a raid one night, the police find a letter in Annie’s pocket. He has written to the Prime Minister about his fruit tree scheme, and the police call Yamdoot to the station to identify him. An annoyed Yamdoot does so, and gives Annie a ride back to his hostel, where he discovers that his beloved hen Sangeeta (he sells her eggs for a bit of extra income) has gone missing.

Noooo! A Ugandan student named Kasozi (Moses Uboh) and his roommate Mankind (Isaac Thomas) have roasted her for dinner.

Arjun and Radha give Annie a white rabbit to replace her, and as the class gets to work building their final project models Arjun and Radha help Annie with his, coaching him on how to present his ideas to the thesis jury and encouraging him. Will Annie finally graduate? Or will Yamdoot sabotage him once again?

The plot of the film is simple; its beauty lies in the characterizations and little vignettes of student life. There is plenty of humor, and lots of it is directed at the pretentiousness inherent in higher education (especially in the arts). The art teacher praises a sculpture of sticks and a feather that Radha has thrown together hastily, calling it “urban sophistication superimposed on tribal sensuousness.” There are also serious moments. You can cut the tension with a knife as the students wait to be called in front of the jury to defend their final projects, and the angst over becoming an adult and leaving school (or failing) is perfectly done. All of the performances are solid, and the details just right. I think Arundhati Roy should make another movie!

I’m still not clear on what the enigmatic (and lengthy) title really means…but it doesn’t really matter. And here is Shahrukh’s only other scene, where he explains why Kasozi grinds his teeth while he sleeps.

Award:  National Film Award for Best Screenplay –  Arundhati Roy

Direction: Pradip Krishen

Story & Screenplay: Arundhati Roy

Cinematography: Rajesh Joshi

Audiography: Indrajit Neogi

Editing: A. Thyagaraju Art

Produced: Bobby Bedi

Cast

Arjun Raina: Annie

Arundhati Roy: Radha

Rituraj Roshan Seth: Y.D. Billimoria/Yamdoot

Isaac Thomas

Divya Seth

Idries Malik

Moses Uboh: Kasozi

Jagan Shah: Medoo

Himani Shivpuri

Shahrukh Khan

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