The early 1970s in Tollington, a one-time mining village in Britain’s industrial midlands. Meena is nine years old, feisty and rebellious. Every other family is white and Meena wants to be like the other kids: she wants fishfingers for tea, not her mother’s curries; she wants to celebrate Christmas and she wants presents at Diwali. Her Punjabi family’s traditional ways, and their expectations of a dutiful daughter, alienate her.
Anita, a few years older, is everything Meena wants to be – the disobedient, uncompromising leader of a gang of girls. Meena tries to impress her: at night she climbs out of her bedroom window to go off with the gang; she steals a charity collection tin from a local shop.
Director Huseyin and scriptwriter Meera Syal have great fun with social mores and the peculiarities of time and place: flares and trashy pop; Meena’s aspirational extended family (there’s a nice role for Syal as a prim ‘aunty’); the social stratification and rivalries of small-town life. Yet the comedy does have a bitter flipside. This is a time of social change and rebellion – and of resistance to change, not least with the rise of fascist groups and ‘Paki’ bashing.
Anita and Me is about identity and difference, about coming of age and wanting to belong. The film may lack the exuberant authorial voice of Syal’s original novel, and the feel-good ending glosses over an insurmountable class barrier between Anita and Meena. Yet in recent years, British films about the Asian experience have stood out for their humour, generosity and honesty: Anita and Me is no exception.Malcolm Lewis