With actors Max Beesley, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Anna Brewster, Kathy Burke, Ayesha Dharker, Omid Djalili, Alex Freeborn, Lynn Redgrave, Zohra Segal, Meera Syal, Christine Tremarco, Chandeep Uppal, Mark Williams
Anita and Me (2002) tells the coming of age story of Meena, a 12-year-old Indian girl growing up in the West Midlands of England. Meena listens to western pop music and reads teen magazines and speaks in a heavy Midlands accent like the locals, while her parents, who emigrated from India in order to provide their daughter with a better life, hold onto their culture and organize regular gatherings with other Indian families living nearby.
Meena’s narration accompanies the film as she reads entries from her journal, humorously describing her life in a backwater town while also expressing her confusion about her own identity and her desire to distance herself from her Indian roots. In a spin on the naked nightmare trope, Meena confesses that in her version, she imagines that she’s seen wearing Indian clothes. The expected culture clash occurs between Meena and her strict parents, who push her to become a doctor and seriously pursue her studies, while Meena dreams of becoming a writer. She falls in with a group of delinquent girls during the summer and is especially enamored with their leader, Anita, who is everything Meena wishes she could be – blonde and beautiful.
Meena’s relationship with Anita provides the catalyst for her eventual acceptance of her heritage, after she tries and fails to change who she is when around Anita. Acknowledging her parents’ wishes, Meena begins to study for her high school entrance exams and learn Punjabi. When Anita remarks, “You’re not like the others,” as an explanation for why she chooses to associate with an Indian girl, Meena reproaches her by exclaiming, “I’m the others!” This moment marks Meena’s transformed view of herself – she no longer tries to deny her identity by wishing that she were white.
The film imparts the positive message of finding yourself and accepting all sides of who you are. Though Meena spends the majority of the film resenting her Indian heritage, by the end she comes to terms with an essential part of her identity, and as a result, her relationship with her family improves. Denying her Indian background had led to loneliness, confusion, and anger, but her acceptance of it finally brings clarity and happiness, as well as harmony between the dual wishes of her parents and herself. Her acceptance into a good school and the publication of one of her stories signifies how two sides of her identity can still exist alongside one another.
Expanding on this idea in of the film’s final scenes, a celebration at a town wedding represents how different cultural traditions can also coexist. The celebrants first sing English songs, and then Meena’s father steps up to sing in Punjabi. This cultural juxtaposition illustrates how Meena’s family is not forced to give up their identity in order to fit in with the locals. Rather, their differences are still present, but the other wedding-goers accept them and together, everyone simply enjoys the music.
by Christine Chou