‘Anandi Gopal’ review: A life less extraordinary

‘Anandi Gopal’ review: A life less extraordinary

An inspiring tale about one of India’s first female physicians

Anandi Gopal is a straight, linear telling of the life one of India’s first women doctors and brings to fore almost all the important events, situations and people she encountered in her short, 22 years. In the epistolary form, it has the life of Anandi emerge from the folds of the letters she exchanges with her American patron Mrs Carpenter and, later, with her husband, Gopalrao Joshi, during her medical studies in Pennsylvania.

But there is more to the seeming simplicity; complex characters and relationships, for instance. Gopalrao (Lalit Prabhakar) himself is an inscrutable one. A widower who agrees to get married on the condition that his wife would pursue her studies. He is progressive, is all for the education of women, is even willing to cook and take care of the house to let his child bride Anandi (Bhagyashree Milind), 20 years his junior, devote time to studies instead. But he is also prone to unbelievable anger and violence when his writ of learning tables and English is not followed. An overzealous, liberal crusader.Anandi Gopal (Marathi)

  • Director: Sameer Vidwans
  • Starring: Bhagyashree Milind, Lalit Prabhakar, Geetanjali Kulkarni
  • Storyline: Biopic of one of the earliest Indian women doctors, Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi

Theirs is a cryptic, mystifying love. On the one hand is the constant threat of abandonment and turmoil that Anandi faces from Gopalrao, on the other is their unique journey together with books as companions. He makes her get over the shame of menstruation, holds her hand, ties the gajra on her hair in public glare and buys her socks and shoes to go to school. And she confesses moving on from fear to curiosity in her relationship with him. Together they face one upheaval too many—from social ostracism for their supposedly intemperate views to losing a child that makes Anandi finally decide on taking medicine as a career and calling.

At times the film seems to swing between the extremes of radicalism and moderation. Expected negotiations, perhaps, in the mid 19th century India that it is set in. So there is Gopalrao’s fight against Brahminical orthodoxy, his decision to embrace Jesus, convert to Chirstianity and leave the country as it’s not allowing his wife to blossom as a doctor. On the other is Anandi’s own unwillingness to embrace a religion if it forces her to let go of her mangalsutra. She will reject a country that doesn’t accept her with her religion. Eventually it is good to see Anandi come into her own, the tough love of Gopalrao notwithstanding.

Both Bhagyashree Milind and Lalit Prabhakar in the lead, and others in the supporting cast, are consummate actors. It’s a pleasure to watch the virtuoso Geetanjali Kulkarni in the significant role of Gopalrao’s former mother-in-law. She starts off with misgivings about his progressiveness being personal, rather than for the larger emancipation eventually becoming the couple’s strongest supporter and ally.

However, the finale gets a tad too melodramatic with all the speechifying and the earnest invocation of India, not to miss the noble-minded celebration of the Indian women pioneers in the end credits. I for one can’t get over the irony and poignancy of how one of our earliest women physicians succumbed to TB at just 22.

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