This time in Bangalore I spent a lot of time in bookstores (Not just time, notes my wife, but lots of money and baggage weight that could have been used to bring back foodstuff). On one such occasion when I was scanning shelves marked ‘Penquin Books’ at Gangarams, I found a title that lit my eyes up: Arundhati Roy’s In which Annie gives it those ones : The original screenplay.
I picked it from the shelf and began to read from the blurb:
In 1988, Arundhati Roy wrote the story and screenplay for In which Annie gives it those ones, a low-budget production produced and directed by Pradip Krishnen. The film had almost no big names, and was shown just once on national television in a late night slot, when few people saw it. Despite this it acquired near cult status, especially among young English-speaking urban Indians.
I had watched it that night on Doordarshan. My memory of the movie was sketchy, but I remembered enjoying it thoroughly. Next day at school – I was in 10th std then – a few of us got together and talked about the movie: we laughed recollecting the student who arrived on a chauffeur driven two-wheeler; we loved the nickname ‘Yamdoot’ and wondered why we hadn’t been so creative in naming our teachers; we talked endlessly about the “kissing scene in the elevator” and wondered how such a pretty girl (Arundhati Roy) could kiss someone so hairy and unkempt. Some of us even decided to apply to the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture; the subject of the course mattered little as long as one studied with girls who wore sleeveless tops and were willing to kiss in elevators.
The book also contained crisp black & white photos of stills from the movie. A collector’s item, I thought, as I added yet another book to the pile I was carrying.
The script was a funny, entertaining read. It also revealed that even at that time Arundhati had a fiercely political bent of mind that made its presence felt in whatever she wrote. Radha, her character in this movie, tells her examiners during her presentation of the final thesis:
“… So in the way he designs these institutions… these symbols, the architect-engineer is telling the non-citizen to ‘keep out’, ‘stay out of here’, ‘this does not belong to you’… It’s a way of establishing territory… like animals… Bears leave scratch marks on trees, tigers have a spray, a mixture of urine and scent gland which says ‘This is my territory’. In human beings this urine and scent gland is replaced by the architect, who establishes territory by manipulating the built environment…”
She clarifies this further in her foreword to the book:
It was as a student of architecture that I began to see that in India we have citizens and ‘non-citizens’, those who matter and those who don’t. Those who are visible and those who are not. Those who are included in our planners’ plans and those who are reflexively excluded from them. It was as a student of architecture that I began to ask questions of my mediocre professors about why I was being brainwashed into becoming yet another mediocre manufacturer of concrete boxes who unquestioningly served the interests of the privileged. It was there that I began to try and understand the endless conflict between power and powerlessness – the conflict that is the central preoccupation of much of my work now.
Reading this, it becomes clear that the seeds of activism were sown quite early in her life. Another aspect the script reveals (through the character of Radha) is her non-conformist, rebellious nature. For her final thesis, she comes dressed in “a bright purple cotton saree, a bright pink blouse, a trilby on her head, a bright pink bindi and spectacles.” When an examiner asks if this is “some type of a new fashion”, she replies “No… I’m just trying to stand out in the crowd.”
The final moments of the movie reveal the conflicts and uncertainties that are passing through her mind:
“Yamdoot was right about this whole guilt thing. I mean you eat and you know guys are starving. You dress and you know guys are walking around nanga. You speak a language that 90 per cent of your country doesn’t understand. Talk about it and you feel like a pseud… at least I feel like a pseud… I don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to write about it, don’t want to go to seminars about it, and I definitely don’t want to build. So what the hell do I do?”
“So what the hell do I do?” She decided to write, which was fine until she wrote The God of Small Things. But after that, her writing took a different turn altogether. More on that topic some other day.