When I saw this week's topic for FC Readers Write was 'Feel Good Films', I thought of at least ten off the top of my head. Mostly Anne Hathaway movies like Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Anne Hathaway's face calms my nerves. I don't know what it is – I have one bad day, I come back to her movies, and instantly feel better. This was until I remembered my ultimate favourite feel-good movie – Anand. When my non-Telugu friends quip about how they loved a mass-y dubbed Telugu movie they watched on TV, I promptly point them to Sekhar Kammula's 2004 film, Anand.
Anand's tagline goes 'Oka Manchi Coffee Lanti Cinema', loosely translating to 'A Movie As Good As A Hot Cup Of Coffee'. "That's a weird claim," I thought when I first saw the movie poster from my auto rickshaw on the way to school.
I went to watch the movie along with a cousin who watched all the weird movies. 'Weird' back in school for me were the slow, artsy movies. After all, like most Telugu kids, I'd been raised on a steady diet of Chiranjeevi films, complete with 'six songs and five fight scenes', as the mass movie legend goes. Anand, as I remember, had barely gotten any publicity prior to its release and heavily relied on audience opinion. So naturally, the half-full theater was way more sombre, a stark contrast from the euphoria that I experienced, when I had last stepped in to watch Chiranjeevi's 2003 release Tagore. Watching films in a theater usually meant completely unhinged madness, and to watch this silent, what's now mockingly called 'multiplex audience' was a very unsettling experience for me. That's until I was five minutes into the movie.
Anand centers around Rupa – a girl who loses her family to an accident as a teen. Cut to present day – Rupa is a young techie who lives alone, wakes up early, makes her cup of coffee and teaches classical music lessons for the children in the neighbourhood before heading off to work. As a Telugu girl newly engaged into a Marwari family, she tries to find her feet in her rapidly changing reality. She quits her job, saves to pay for her own wedding and is basically in the process of uprooting her current life for her colleague-turned-boyfriend. Rupa is surrounded by her neighbours – a sweet yet stern grandma, her two grandchildren and her friend Anita among other friends.
Anand, on the other hand, is a sensitive, sensible man who jeers at the idea of marriage. He has his head on his shoulders despite being the heir of a successful family-run business. He has his own demons to deal with, with a father who is traumatised by a fatal accident in his past. The movie revolves around how Rupa and Anand come to learn about each other, and ultimately fall in love.
The twist? It feels mildly ridiculous to appreciate this but there's no over-the-top romancing, stalking or non-consensual behaviour of any sort. If Anand ever crosses a line, Rupa ensures there are consequences to his actions. They're two mature adults connected through one fateful event which is the death of her family.
The movie is set in the calm by-lanes of Padma Rao Nagar, Secunderabad, which Sekhar Kammula is now synonymous with. Having lived in the same neighbourhood, the director captures the essence of the city beautifully. So when it rains and the heroine breaks into a song while there's hot pakoras frying in the kitchen, you feel the joy. The music is absolutely soulful.
In many ways, Anand was a portal for so many young girls like me to know that a world like this, and a life like Rupa's is a possibility. One could be the independent, free-willed adult woman who could make her own choices. For someone who grew up in the pre-internet, pre-Twitter era where movies were one of the very few mediums to absorb culture, this messaging was important. It was important for the ten-year-old me to know that I didn't have to dress skimpy and run around trees with the man I love to lead a happily-ever-after life.
Rupa's neighbours in Anand for instance, are all independent entities. We don't entirely know where the male members of their family are. What's great is you don't feel a need to find out. They're perfectly complete on their own. They're strong, opinionated women who just exist, a complete turn from what one had seen in other movies where women existed to love and serve the men in their lives. Through Rupa and Anand, one got an inkling of what a respectful, symbiotic relationship looks like.
Rupa makes her decisions on her own accord. She chooses whom to get married to, when she wants to. That said, it isn't a Captain Marvel style I-can-do-it-all-effortlessly portrayal. You see her inhibitions, you see her vulnerabilities, you see the nights when she cries herself to sleep knowing she did the right thing, when she cancels a wedding over what everyone thinks is a small technicality.
Without having to spell it out, one understood that making our own choices, on our own terms also meant dealing with the consequences. And if you're lucky, you get to take along a loving group of friends plus a supportive partner along.
While Sekhar Kammula regularly explores themes surrounding feminism, self-respect and dignity in his movies, watching Anand as a little girl reinforced the idea that a life with love doesn't have to be a life devoid of respect and choice. The messaging is warm and comforting, just like a good cup of coffee on a cold winter morning.