Anjali Menon on Bangalore Days: The Bliss of Being

Anjali Menon

Was poet Rumi the world’s first quantum physicist?

If you are wondering what Rumi or quantum physics has to do with Anjali Menon, the director of the smash-hit Malayalam film Bangalore Days, well, you must listen to her, and flow with her thought process.

A few years ago, she was taking baby steps into the big world of movies. The indie film Manjadikuru, her directorial debut, could have been written off as a one-film wonder made by a rank industry-outsider.

And then something incredible happened. It was a short film called Happy Journey that was part of director Renjith’s anthology Kerala Café.  The film took a gentle but hilarious swipe at lecherous men who taunt women in public transport. Oh, but isn’t it just a short film, the skeptics thought.

And then something even more incredible happened. Ustad Hotel, a film she scripted, turned out to be runaway box-office hit.  The innate goodness in her lines – ‘every cup of sulaimani needs a little mohabbat in it’ – touched a chord with even the hardboiled, cynical Malayalis.

So when Manjadikuru, which was filmed in 2008, reached theatres in 2012, Anjali Menon became a name that could sell theatrical and satellite rights. That is no mean feat in Malayalam cinema, which continues to be swayed by vested lobbies and superstar clout.

When she announced her next venture, titled only very late into its production, the star-studded cast itself made headlines. Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salman, Nivin Pauly, Nazriya Nazim, Parvati Menon, Nithya Menen, Isha Talwar… phew… it as if all of Malayalam cinema’s youthful vigour and talent was packed into one helluva movie.

It was deemed as the ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ of Malayalam cinema, and the ‘coming of age’ movie.  Untouched by the hullaballoo, Anjali, meanwhile, tweeted, “Life should have a snooze button… yawn!,” occasionally refuted that ‘no, ‘L for Love’ is not the name of the film,” and just retweeted Paulo Coelho and Rumi’s quotes.

And then Bangalore Days released. A euphoric 30 days of scintillating success later, the film continues to run to packed houses in Kerala, and is now playing at theatres in the UAE.

The little girl who went to Indian High School and Our Own English High School in Dubai has cushioned her seat as Kerala’s own most sought directors.

Dulquer, Nivin and Nazriya
Dulquer Salman, Nivin Pauly and Nazriya Nazim

Anjali, however, might brush aside such praises. Speaking to City Times, between snatches of mother-time for her two-year-old Madhav, whom at one point in the film’s making she had not seen for seven straight days, Anjali is in a curious mood of elation and nonchalance.Elated with the film’s success – “I am absolutely happy, in fact stunned…” and nonchalant that “I am just a gatherer of moments from life.”

Anjali says the film must have brought out the “dreams and hope” in every one’s lives. “People like to feel good,” she adds.

Today, that is exactly what Kerala is feeling about Bangalore Days, which has fetched high-praise from one and all (actor Siddharth of Rang De Basanti fame, tweeted: “Wonderful film. Ensemble brilliance from some of India’s finest young actors. Pure talent! Kudos!).

One factor for the success of Bangalore Days, many felt, is that you could relate to any of the six key protagonists. And, much like Anjali’s earlier films, its undertone of subtle humour and the characters’ ability to laugh at life while being firm on convictions, also fetched audience resonance.

Anjali says she scripted the film on the go, and improvised it extensively on the sets. She says the actors, the props and almost the entire mise-en-scène served as inspiration.

The making of the film, as almost every actor acknowledged, was super-fun. That camaraderie helped the movie too, says Anjali.

Bangalore Days also has that quaint Anjali-esque way of bridging cultures – urbane sophistication with rural naiveté, and old-world values with modern-day ambition – which was evident in Ustad Hotel and Manjadikuru. That is what perhaps makes, Bangalore Days even more appealing to Kerala’s youth.

“The youth are quicker and they want everything now,” observes Anjali. The impatience at ‘things not happening,’ she says, must not be an excuse. “If you are unhappy about a situation, get out of it. Living in silent suffering mode is outdated.”

Anjali says she derives inspiration from life around her. “I often feel that real life is more interesting than the reel life we create.”

Despite the box-office successes, Anjali says she still considers herself an outsider to the industry, who doesn’t know the industry norms. She feels Dubai, the city she grew up until she was 18, “is home and in many senses it still is.”

After Manjadikuru, she told City Times: “My hybrid sensibility is born from the expatriate in me. There is a constant exploration for one’s roots and yet a sense of belonging to more than one place.”

Anjali is now set for a holiday, and perhaps read more (books she loved include Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and works by Jhumpa Lahiri).

She might even write a book. “I believe in that time-space continuum, where we are sitting in the future. My job is to take it from now to the future, and do my best about it… whatever it be.”

That take on quantum physics is what drives her, and even makes her unpredictable about ‘what next.’ And that is why she calls herself a constantly changing gatherer – of stories, thoughts and moments from life.

As Rumi said, much like a quantum physicist: “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”

For sure, he got it right with Anjali, with her films proving that “only from your heart can you touch the sky.” That too, by the way, is Rumi.

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