The film’s story is director Sudeshna Sen’s debut feature and an adaption of the novel ‘Looking For Bapu’ by Anjali Banerjee.
At the centre of the film is a young Indian-American girl Anu (played by Diya Modi). She witnesses the death of her grandfather Bapu (played by Abhijeet Rane) whom she is so fond of and struggles to process the grief.
When Anu realizes that she has lost her grandfather she doesn’t know how to grieve. This leads her to be in denial that he has passed. Especially when Bapu’s ghost visits her.
Or is it all just her imagination?
As is typical of most parents, Anu’s parents fail to see that she is going through a trying phase and see her actions as rebellious and unbecoming of the values she was brought up with. Soon, Anu is convinced that her Grandfather’s soul is still wandering and that he is a reincarnation of a Hindu prince that died and never reached nirvana. So she must find ways to bring him back before his completely forgotten by the family.
She gets convinced that to be able to bring her beloved grandfather back to life, she must become spiritual and pure. So she devels more into the Buddhist teachings and even chooses to go on a hunger cleanse whilst giving her lunch away to other students in her school. She also goes as far as cutting down her long hair just so she can become like the Buddhist holy men all in the hopes of receiving the miracle of having her Bapu back.
Her only two friends do all that they can to help her find answers to the questions that she has. Izzy (played by Eden Campbell) is home-schooled but she has an imagination as wild and creative as Anu’s. At their first encounter, she shows Anu a shrunken head from Ecuador detailing her interest in mythical lost tribes. She feeds into all that Anu believes and talks to her about fortune tellers and magicians who can help her bring her Grandfather back. And there is Unger (played by Hudson Bruener) who is Anu’s schoolmate and closest pal at her school.
The film also subtly highlights the challenges of immigrant life. Their family dynamic is tested by the loss of Bapu and Anu’s seeming defiance. Her parents do all that they can to make sure she is connected to her family back home and even insist that she puts on a wig for her school photo which they had planned to send copies to all of the family back home in India.
Even with the dialogue being dominantly English, the film remains grounded in the tenets and traditions of Indians. There are enough references in the dialogue and even the plot that ties in well with the culture and heritage that Anu’s family belongs to. But this in no way does not feel or seems like your typical Hindu movie. It however does great at touching on the challenges of preserving cultural heritage in an immigrant context.
Sen’s adaption feels very genuine and sincere in many ways. You do not even have to know about the novel it is based on to appreciate and enjoy this film for what it is. It is heartwarming and reminds you of the loved ones you have lost.
The film keeps a simple vibrant pallet that captures the serenity of its setting in Seattle. Even with the underlying theme of grief and loss, the film still manages to have subtle elements of humour that do not necessarily make you crack a rib or roll on the floor with laughter, but just enough to make you smile.
I would score this film 7/10. ANU is a decent drama that can be watched and appreciated by any and everyone. The film is as much about love as it is as much as loss and grief.
For a debut feature film, it is the right choice of story for Sudeshna Sen to introduce herself onto the scene. Since films like this have the potential to go on a decent run on the indie film festival circuit.
ANU premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) on May 14th 2023.