In this series we look at films that deserve another look with fresh eyes
In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones is set in the National Institute of Architecture in May 1974. It's the last two weeks before final submission so students are pulling all-nighters. The stress is broken by bouts of table-tennis, much joking, laughter and even a stint in jail – for Annie at least. Annie is a male student named Anand who has failed repeatedly and spent four years in the fifth year. 'Those ones' refers to Annie's schemes to be an architect whose work actually benefits society – his plans include planting trees alongside the thousands of miles of railway lines in India. The trees can easily be fertilized by the passengers defecating on trains. This would result in miles of fruit orchards, which would then help to stabilize rural migration. The term is used in dialogue like this: Pata nahin yaar Annie ka kuchh. I asked him in the bogs and he started giving it those ones. Bogs means the toilet.
The film was telecast once, at midnight, on Doordarshan. It had been commissioned by then DD-head Bhaskar Ghose who, according to director Pradip Krishen, had promised to telecast it without any changes. In an interview with The Economic Times, Kishen said that Ghose was watching the film for the first time when he got a call from Rajiv Gandhi's office telling him that he had been fired. However, in 1989, it won the National Award for best screenplay (Arundhati Roy) and for best feature film in English. And over the years, Annie found a following on YouTube.
In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones is essentially a love letter to youth but not the acne-free, perfectly styled, dripping-in-brands youth we usually see in Hindi cinema. The students in this film are vulnerable, irreverent, idealistic and delightfully awkward. Which is why Shah Rukh Khan, who made his film debut in Annie, was relegated to play a minor character named Senior who appears in four scenes and speaks only in two. As Pradip tells it: He was already in heroic mould and there were no heroes in this film.
Annie is, as far as I know, India's first Hinglish film. It also has a smattering of Punjabi. The film has a home video-like informality, that is unique. The dialogue, peppered with cuss words, is authentic and consistently funny – the students actually sound like students. But in this slice-of-college-life, Pradip and Arundhati embedded a sharp critique of the system, which churns out money-making conformists. Arundhati plays Radha, the fiery rule-breaker who smokes beedis and matches a sari with a hat. You can see some of the radicalism that Arundhati would later espouse as a writer in Radha – in one scene, she says, 'I have a talent for telling people they're full of crap.'
Radha's final thesis questions the very basis of an architect's existence. To defend it, she gives an impassioned speech on the haves and have-nots, on citizens and non-citizens. But the bored committee is too busy ordering dinner. Annie's thesis on the railways-led orchards is trying to solve rural rehabilitation but the principal, played by a starchy Roshan Seth, will have none of it.
The film captured, with grungy authority, the madness and magic of being a student. It is the ancestor of films like 3 Idiots or Chhichhore
The principal, who the students call Yamdoot, often addresses them with: My Dear Donkey. It's very clear whose side the film is on. Yamdoot is the villain but he also has layers. He lives with his overbearing mother and drives himself to work in an undershirt. He puts his shirt on once he arrives at college. These details give the characters flesh. So even the minor ones – Lakes, the prissy good-girl desperately chasing marks; Mankind, the helpful student who tells bad jokes; Kasozi, the African student who grinds his teeth at night – are memorable. Pradip and Arundhati tell their story with immense affection, with the camera snaking in and out of the canteen, classes and hostel rooms.
In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones was made thirty-one years ago, long before Hindi independent cinema was a thing. The film captured, with grungy authority, the madness and magic of being a student. It is the ancestor of films like 3 Idiots or Chhichhore. No matter what your college experience is, the film evokes a sense of nostalgia for that moment in your life, between childhood and adulthood, when you first spread your wings. It's wonderfully eccentric. And it's your only chance to see Arundhati Roy the actor.