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Meena, a 12-year-old living in a mining village in the English Midlands in 1972, is the daughter of Indian parents who've come to England to give her a better life. This idyllic existence is upset by the arrival in the village of Anita Rutter and her dysfunctional family. Anita is 14, blonde and beautiful - exactly what Meena thinks she wants to be. She becomes part of Anita's world, but events do not run smoothly. Meena's growing up - and that brings plenty of changes. Written by
I remember seeing Anita & Me because of the appearance of its likable young star, Chandeep Uppal, on The Frank Skinner Show years ago and I couldn't be happier that I did. It has quickly taken the place of my favourite film and, in my opinion, is one of the best films ever made.
The story follows young Meena Kumar, a girl who would be considered very normal by today's standards, and the life she lives with her parents in Tollington, near Birmingham. I was born in 1988 and am male but still found Meena relatable, likable and, it has to be said, cute (and frankly, some of her expressions are priceless). One seemingly ordinary day, her life is turned upside down by Anita Rutter, played by Anna Brewster. Meena is a brilliant character, with a wise head on young shoulders but one who retains a childlike exuberance. An aspiring writer, Meena pines for some of the breaks that white kids managed to get; upon patronisingly being asked "what do you want to be when you grow up", Meena replies "blonde". Anita & Me is filled with witty lines like this throughout. It has to be said, Anita is less brilliant and nowhere near as likable as the wonderful Meena. From the start, Anita is rather hostile or indifferent to all around her. But then again, you get the feeling she isn't meant to be likable.
Anita and Meena aren't the only characters, obviously. British viewers will recognise the familiar faces of Meera Syal (whose book was adapted to make the movie), Sanjeev Bhaskar, Omid Djalili and Mark Williams. All give the great performances expected of them although, in my opinion, props still to Chandeep Uppal for her performance as Meena.
The film is remarkably bittersweet, dealing with racism, friendship, family, education and religion, always seeming very realistic. Over the course of the film, even minor characters get a great deal of characterisation. Local boy Sam begins to question having non-whites in Tollington, burnt-out rocker Ned finds love and local friendly priest Alan may be more than he's letting on. Out of all the issues Anita & Me deals with, some are bound to click with you. How many of us had local legends involving haunted houses or werewolves or, in Tollington's case, a Yeti? How many of us have thought we're destined for bigger things, such as Meena does when she thinks "maybe I'm here by mistake"? And how many worried about getting hair in strange places? And I'm sure all of us have had at least one complicated friendship.
This is where Anita's ambiguity really comes into its own and, as the film goes on, Meena may be more in touch with her Indian heritage than she realised and her parents may be more comfortable with Britain than they thought. It's part of the joy of Anita & Me to see these relationships and scenarios develop. It's also very uplifting to see a film that is so pro-race, pro-gender and pro-religion. There isn't a race particularly portrayed as "the bad guys". With gender, it's surprising and rather satisfying that the fathers are more lenient while the mothers are more strict and, while the worst racist is male, more women are vocal about their intolerance. And, thankfully, religions are portrayed in a positive light whereas so many lesser films may have resorted to petty jabs and insults that are all too common these days.
Essentially, Anita & Me is a film I can't recommend highly enough, in the same vein as such indie films as The Breakfast Club, dealing with similar teenage and young adult emotions, and British kitchen sink dramas. It might change your perceptions, make you think or just make you laugh but Anita & Me is that rarest of things; a drama, a comedy and a coming-of-age story all rolled into one.
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