Pradip Krishen is (or was) an unusual filmmaker. His first film “In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones” won a National Award and has gained a cult status in Indian parallel cinema. Film buffs might know it for two special reasons–one, it was one of Shahrukh Khan’s earliest film appearances (as an ‘other others’ cast) and two, it starred among others, an unlikely name in Bollywood–Arundhati Roy. In fact, it was Roy’s literary genius that gave the film an intellectual flavor, touched by her signature subtlety of storytelling.
The film is about a group of college peers studying at the National Institute of Architecture in Delhi who have an uncanny resemblance to the hippies of North America. The character of Annie is a guy in constant existential crisis who keeps a hen in his room and dreams of solving the problem of urban migration by turning trains into vehicles for planting fruit trees. He seems to have an old altercation with “Yamdoot”, the head of the architecture department who, at one point, helps him get out of police lockup.
Arundhati Roy plays a carefree, urbane girl who has Marxist ideas about the whole business of architecture, wherein it is only the upper class that exploits the cityscape while the poor and the downtrodden make their ends meet in the ‘gaps’ that exist in the urban environment. Other interesting characters in the film include a guy from Uganda whose dream is to build a world-class multiplex in the heart of Kampala and who wails in his sleep because his ‘pop’ was killed by Idi Amin. Shahrukh Khan’s small but noticeable role is that of a quirky senior who speaks polished English and parts his (oily) hair in the middle.
The most important aspect of the film is a continuous sense of irreverence; irreverence of a creative nature. Dissent is the constant undertone that runs throughout the film, be it Annie’s unwillingness to submit to the norms set up for him by his college, or the firm resolve of Roy’s character to present a thesis on her Marxist perspective of architecture for her final examination. Unlike today’s intolerance and ‘anti-nationalisation’ of opposing views, even in the universities, the film depicts an acceptance and an eventual celebration of such views. As the end credits appear on the screen, the viewers are told that all those characters, who seemed disobedient and careless in their approach to conventional rules of education, actually did make something of their lives. It is a kind reassurance that you don’t have to agree with everything you are taught to be able to succeed in life.
“In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones” is a film which finds relevance in our world today. In a society where colleges have been converted into factories of degree holders and slaves of the system, this film seeks to inspire creativity and a narrative of counter-culture in the youth. It is an experimental film which can boast of great fun and humor with a deeply insightful undercurrent.
The fact that the makers of this film, both Pradip Krishen and Arundhati Roy, returned their awards in protest of the current regime’s takeover of space for free speech speaks for the urgency of the message it sought to convey way back in 1989.