Director: Thangam Saravanan
Cast: Vimal, Nandita, Pasupathy
The most inspiring feature about Tamil cinema is its ability to think out of the box. Tamil films continue to amaze me, despite being a seasoned critic. Thangam Saravanan’s Anjala is an unusual plot about how a tea-shop is built on an absolutely arid land in the British India of 1913, and how the lone eatery on hostile wilderness spawns a community around it -- and ultimately a whole village.
Anjala begins with a couple wearily walking on a parched expanse of land. There is no vegetation--no trees, no shrubs. The husband and wife are going towards a village, but make a mid-day halt to quench their thirst. An English officer on horseback comes along, and orders them to move. But the couple stays on right there after the officer leaves, and decide to build a shack on the spot that eventually becomes the tea-shop.
We are told in a voice over that while civilisations grew on river banks, the tea-shop village grew not by the side of a water body. And interestingly, the shop first becomes a place where travellers quench their thirst.
Anjala, that is the name of the tea-shop, later becomes a centre for social interaction -- as such eateries do in India, and elsewhere. Somewhat like a Hindu temple or maybe even a Christian church, Anjala -- as we see in the movie -- develops into a vibrant centre of social activity where men meet, where lovers exchange their first shy glances.
But, Anjala -- subsequently run by the son (Pasupathy, who is just called Owner) of the man who along with his wife erected the shack in 1913 -- also turns into a den, where a crook, unsuspecting to the owner and the boys who work there, hides counterfeit currency notes. And this leads to the owner being arrested, and his social esteem taking a severe beating.
Watch Anjala trailer here:
An important sub-plot is the romance between one of the boys working in the tea-shop -- Kavas (Vimal), and a college student, Utthara (Nandita). As Nandita waits opposite the shop every morning for her college bus, she falls in love with Kavas.
As much as the theme of Anjala may be unique, the film’s scripting and treatment leave a lot to be desired. Utthara’s declaration of love for Kavas is artificial to the core, robbing the scene of certain tenderness, a certain beauty. Kavas’ response is equally silly and juvenile.
Utterly distasteful are the scenes that are meant to provide comic relief. Here we have huge burly men with unimpressive physical features wooing gorgeous-looking girls, and the whole train of thoughts and sequences can be described in just one word, ugh.
This kind of humour is crass, and adding to this lack of finesse are the needless songs and dances that do not push the narrative, but hamper and mar it.
It seems such a tragedy that a fascinating plot is messed up this way. But yes, Pasupathy’s extraordinarily dignified performance as the man who genuinely feels for the boys who work for him and the community around, stops Anjala from sinking to the very bottom.