Meera & Meena
12 year old Meena (Chandeep Uppal) lives with her family in the mining village of Tollington not far from Birmingham where things tick over nicely for the family. But as she approaches her teenage years Meena's desires leads her to become friends with Anita (Anna Brewster), a waspy blonde who comes from a dysfunctional family and she starts to lead Meena astray. But as Meena spends time with Anita her eyes are opened to a very different world away from her family, a world of racism and mistrust.
"Anita & Me" was everything I expected it to be, a coming of age story about a young Indian girl in 1972 full of observational and nostalgic humour. It means that in some ways "Anita & Me" is like a companion piece to "East is East" but told from the viewpoint of an Indian girl in a small village rather than an Indian boy in a town. And so if you enjoyed the humour, nostalgia and occasional depth of "East is East" there is a good chance you will enjoy "Anita & Me". There is also another reason why you may enjoy it and that is Meera Syal because this is her adaptation of her own novel and it is full of Meera's brilliant sense of humour.
The thing about "Anita & Me" is that with the entire movie is set in 1972 it feels like a nostalgic recollection and as such it doesn't have a solid storyline, more a group of episodes. Now you could say that the storyline is all about Meena becoming friends with Anita, being lead astray as she typically does a bit of teenage rebellion only to grow closer to her family when she sees the truth. But for me that sort of takes a back seat and instead we get plenty of observations of growing up as an Indian girl in a predominantly white village in 1972.
What that means is that "Anita & Me" is a lot of fun thanks to a lot of observational humour. There is the humour of being an Indian where we have the entire family show up in one car but there is also the humour of Anita's family being dysfunctional with her mother, wonderfully played by Kathy Burke, being a full on stereotype. It works brilliantly because the humour is shared out equally poking fun at who ever is in the scene so from washed up rockers to hippy preachers there are laughs a plenty.
And what that also means is that when "Anita & Me" approaches the subject of racism it does so in a very level headed manner, showing that it goes both ways. So we have the unintentional racism of the old woman who owns the corner store who says things which she doesn't realise is racist whilst we also have Meena's family making fun of the English way of living. There is another element of racism in the movie which is part of the bigger storyline and not there to provide laughs but let's say it is well worked in.
Adding to everything which for me is right about "Anita & Me" is that we have wonderful characters, caricatures and performances with plenty of recognizable faces such as Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ayesha Dharker, Omid Djalili, Kathy Burke, Mark Williams and of course Meera Syal plus a few which you may not instantly recognize thanks to their outfits such as Max Beesley and Lynn Redgrave. But the star of "Anita & Me" is Chandeep Uppal who floats through the movie so effortlessly, confidently playing Meena as if she had lived as a child growing up in 1972. The only real criticism is not her performances but the choice to have so much narration from her character because it becomes a bit incessant. There is of course Anna Brewster as Anita and whilst it is hard to warm to the character of Anita, Brewster plays the dysfunctional teenager spot on.
What this all boils down to is that "Anita & Me" is for me a good companion piece to "East is East" focussing on a young girl in a 1970s village on the verge of becoming a teenager. It is full of observational humour but also a bitter sweet element which makes you think.