Arundhati Roy has a long history of evoking extreme reactions from those who have read her, and even more extreme reactions from those who haven’t. People either hate Roy or love her. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a writer, it makes almost impossible any pretensions to objectivity on the part of the reviewer. Try asking an Indian cricket fan to be ‘objective’ about Sachin Tendulkar. He is an amazing player. He almost never delivers when India needs him the most. But he is an amazing player. Arundhati Roy is the Sachin Tendulkar of Indian Writing in English. But she isn’t interested in being an ‘Indian writer’ – anymore than she is interested in being ‘Indian’ (she’d just as well ‘secede’ from India) or being a ‘writer’ (“another book? Right now?”). But she is an amazing Indian – perhaps because she is an ‘anti-national.’ And she is an amazing writer – perhaps because she refuses to become a career-novelist.In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones is the screenplay of a film directed by Pradip Krishen. It was written by Roy in 1988. It was screened once, “late one night on TV (Doordarshan) when most decent folk were fast asleep.” But it faded into oblivion soon after. Now, for all those who missed the ‘screen version’ of the film, Penguin has come out with the book version.
First of all, would a reader who hasn’t seen the film, enjoy reading this screenplay? My unqualified answer is Yes. Why? Because if we forget for a moment that this whole piece was supposed to have been (and was) made into a film, and just read the book – it works. It works as a piece of writing, as a narrative. The text doesn’t have the literary markers that signify ‘novel’ or ‘play’.
The story revolves around a group of “dope-smoking, bell-bottom-wearing, vaguely idealistic” final year architecture students – Anand Grover (Annie), Arjun, Radha, Kasozi, a student from Kampala, and their assorted batchmates – all of whom are gearing up to present their final year thesis before the ‘jury’. How good their thesis is, and how they present it to the ‘jury’ – will determine whe-ther they graduate, or fail. Annie is in his ninth year. He has still not managed to impress the jury – for certain reasons. Will he manage to pass and get out of the School at least this year? Or will he “give it those ones?” Will Arjun, and his girlfriend Radha clear the examination as well? While these questions drive the narrative forward, what is more interesting is the language, and the flavour of the “vaguely idealistic” university life that permeates the text.
Roy captures Hinglish as she/it was before it became the official language of music channels and radio jockeys: “Hai Sir I’m So Confused Pata Nehi Kuch Samaj Mei Nehi Aa Raha What To Do.” I’m not sure if Roy isn’t kidding, – no, I think she is kidding when she says in her foreword that the film won the award of “Best Film In Languages Other Than Those Specified In Schedule VII Of the Indian Constitution.”
What defines the main characters of the story – Annie, Radha, Arjun – is a fierce determination to be true to be themselves as individuals – even if it means the risk of having to pay the price for it. Though Annie compromises in the end, it is not before he has paid a heavy price – having repeated his final year four times. As Roy says in her other pieces, the ‘powers’ can “wait you out”, and Annie just couldn’t – could not have, waited any longer. What happens to him is a parable of how each individual – however ‘vaguely idealistic’ – is beaten into conformity. It is no coincidence that Annie’s defiant individuality has to be packed and refrigerated, even if only temporarily – before he is able to access a life of dignity in society, before he can step out of the campus and into the mainstream life of society, into a livelihood. But as his determination to “give it those ones” shows, this temporary retreat need not be the end. One needs to keep up the fight – give in (like Annie does) if one must – but never give up.
Though this text is bound to interest a film buff (who might want to gauge the screenplay’s cinematic value) its real interest, to my mind, lies in the political vision of its author. Though present (retrospectively speaking) in a somewhat nascent state, it is still a vital element that adds value to this writing, and connects it to the writer. It is important to remember that Arundhati Roy wasn’t the Arundhati Roy when she wrote this screenplay. This screenplay is a book today – not because it was a cinematic triumph that was, unfortunately, a commercial failure and therefore had to be promoted by other means – but because the writer who wrote it, later went on to become the Arundhati Roy. And anything Roy writes, wrote, is writing, will write, will have written – even if it’s a letter to the plumber – publishers will publish, for entirely honourable reasons. Roy, with typical honesty, says as much in her foreword, “I’m not sure how the script reads as an independent piece of writing for those who haven’t seen the film…but Penguin wants to publish it, and hey, Penguin’s an honourable man.” Of course.
G. Sampath writes freelance, and lives in Delhi.