Anita And Me

Anita And Me

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Me is Meena. She's 12 years old, Indian and speaks with a broad Midlands accent. "I wish I was called Sandra and had blonde hair," she says. The year is 1972. Political correctness has not been invented. Dark skins in English villages are as rare as black footballers in the First Division. Life may be quaint and old-fashioned, but it's also racist.

Meena's friend Anita's mum (Kathy Burke) comes home one day with a cuddly black poodle pup.

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"What's it called?" Anita's little sister asks. "Nigger," she is told. And no-one blinks an eye.

Meera Syal, actress, writer and one of the most influential forces for change in the British attitude towards Asian culture - she is part of the Goodness Gracious Me comedy team, wrote the script for Bhaji On The Beach and the book of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams - is not banging a drum for multiracial harmony. She uses humour, because that's the way she works. Scratch the surface of Anita And Me, which originated as Syal's first novel, and you'll find a rites-of-passage story of teenage self-discovery.

Anita (Anna Brewster) is the sexy blonde school rebel, two years older than Meena and bossette of The Wenches, a three-girl gang of antisocial wastrels. Stifled by the well-meaning concern of her Punjabi parents, Meena hustles her way in and becomes Anita's closest ally.

The film mirrors Bend It Like Beckham in depicting a young girl's hopes and desires, contrasted with conservative traditions at home. Meena doesn't play football, she writes an elaborate diary, which is quoted from a little too often on the narrative voice-over. The trendy vicar (Mark Williams) is pure caricature, but the lady in the village shop, who stands no nonsense from cheeky kids, or anyone else for that matter, is wonderfully played by an unrecognisable Lynn Redgrave.

This is closer to the bone than Bend It, which was too feel-good, and touches on genuine problems of teenage friendship and betrayal. Meena is attracted to Anita, because she's a girl who breaks the rules, but, actually, she's sad and unhappy and not nice. What's admirable about Syal's script is that Anita doesn't change. She's lost in a fog of defiance, leading, no doubt, to pregnancy and despair, while Meena remains loyal, despite suffering racial slurs and rejection.

Sanjeev Bhaskar and Ayesha Dharker are Meena's parents and Syal plays her "auntie". They are funny and warm and perfectly cast. The real star is Chandeep Uppal, discovered in a Midlands school, not a trained actress, bursting with energy and life. Her portrayal of Meena gives the film its heart.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2002
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A 12-year-old Indian girl gangs up with a 14-year-old bad girl in a quiet Midlands village in 1972.
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Director: Metin Huseyin

Writer: Meera Syal, based on the novel by Meera Syal

Starring: Chandeep Uppal, Anna Brewster, Sanjeen Bhaskar, Ayesha Dharker, Lynn Redgrave, Kathy Burke, Meera Syal, Mark Williams, Max Beesley, Zohra Segal

Year: 2002

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK

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