Movie Review: Chronicle of Anandi Gopalrao Joshee’s journey from a child bride to India’s first female doctor

Movie: Anandi Gopal

Rating:  3.5/5                        

Language: Marathi

Cast: Bhagyashree Milind as Yamuna/ Yamu/ Anandi, Lalit Prabhakar as Gopalrao Joshi – Anandi’s husband

Director:  Sameer Vidwans

Writer: Karan Shrikant Sharma

Music composed by: Hrishikesh Datar, Saurabh Bhalero, Jasraj Joshi

Production company: Zee Studios

Screenplay: Karan Siddhant Sharma (Hindi), Irawati Karnik (Marathi)

Produced by: Kishor Arora

Cinematography: Akash Agarwal, Apoorva Shaligram

More than a century before the #MeToo Movement (130 to 150 years ago to be exact), Maharashtrian women had engaged with not just the Indian men but also the State, in fights for Socio-Political reform.

Barring a few exceptions like the trailblazing feminist Tarabai Shinde, it is claimed that the Maharashtrian women’s critique of patriarchy was largely male-initiated. The resulting protests that women led in the Socio-Political reform movements, were also male-inspired. This was said to be true in Bengal as well.

Was the Maharashtrian male genuinely concerned about the plight of their womenfolk or was it a selfish political agenda that led them to spear-head gender equality? This question rises again in this movie. If gender-based issues are limited only to equal right to education for women then Gopal Rao can be called a feminist. But if gender-equality encompasses age of consent, conjugal rights, right against marital violence as well as right to higher education then Gopal Rao could be termed as a feminist only of the smallest degree.

Anandi Gopalrao Joshee
Anandi Gopalrao Joshee. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

Anandi is said to have graduated in 1856 from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, United States, as the first female from Bombay presidency with a two-year degree in western medicine. Her husband initially motivated and encouraged her to read, write and finish her basic schooling. Later he supported her financially and morally to sail away from India and complete her studies in medicine. I would say this is their story, both Gopal’s and Anandi’s, not hers alone. This is because both the decision-making and the authority to pursue education were handed over to Anandi by Gopal. It is only later that she develops an intrinsic motivation to continue her education, in order to bring about a change in society.

Gopal Rao Joshi was a Postmaster and dissenter who publicly denounced the antiquated and inane notions of womanhood, patriarchy, widowhood and religion. Very commendable indeed! But then again after the death of his first wife he married the child bride Yamuna who then is given a new name – Anandi. (As if all the out-of-the skin changes post an arranged marriage were not enough, this absurd re-christening of brides is a custom widely practised even today). This fanatical reformist, who is prone to violence, marries Anandi after her parents accept his eccentric condition that she must pursue her studies after marriage. (For many spouses and in-laws that continues to be an eccentricity even today.)    

Anandi’s mother convinces her father to accept the terms, saying that at least she will not starve once she is married. A notion hard to palate, when the mother and daughter look like they have a BMI well beyond the ideal healthy range. However, leaving that casting blooper aside, the rest of the cast is outstanding. Especially Lalit Prabhakar as Gopal gives a highly commendable restrained performance despite having to portray extreme emotions. He reminded me of Atul Kulkarni and Subodh Bhave which puts him in the big league indeed. Bhagyashree Milind gives a stoic performance.

From getting her to recite her multiplication tables on their wedding night to teaching her to learn English, to enrolling her in a missionary school as the only Indian student, Gopal pushes a reluctant Anandi to walk against the flow, while parallelly fighting with Brahminical patriarchy and entrenched social conventions. It stops becoming a two-pronged fight only when Anandi from a tragic personal experience, gets intrinsically motivated to become a doctor.

Sameer Vidwans’ ‘Anandi Gopal’ is based on such an absorbing, inspirational and path-breaking biopic that any melodrama in the film was totally unnecessary. It will resonate, even with today’s audience, on so many levels. That is because the movement to seek educational, political, economic, personal and social equality as well as to establish professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men is an on-going one.

Though Anandi Gopal Joshi was the first Indian woman to qualify as a doctor, she never practised medicine. Suffering from tuberculosis, she returned to India after her convocation, she soon died. Dr Rukhmabai has the honour of being the first practising lady doctor of India. There are unconfirmed reports of an upcoming biopic by Ananth Mahadevan on Rukhmabai Bhimrao Raut, India’ s first practising doctor.  

The sets, locations, costumes and cinematography in this period film are outstanding. Not a moment of dissonance can you feel as the film moves from Bombay to Alibaugh, from Kolhapur to Calcutta or even from the missionary school to Pennsylvania’s women’s medical college. Considering that it covers such a multitude of locations in a period from 1865 when Anandi was born to 1887, that’s no mean feat.

The soundtrack comprising of six melodic tracks is a jukebox I have already listened to multiple times. Another triumvirate, this time comprising of Hrishikesh Datar, Saurabh Bhalerao and Jasraj Joshi can take credit for this one. An assortment of new as well as established singers have lent their voices to these unique half a dozen songs.

‘Waata Waata Waata Ga’ has a wonderful rhythm that pumps me up on my long walks.

‘Ranga Maliyela’ the lovely wedding song is better enjoyed as an audio without the visual dissonance of the child marriage being conducted with full traditional rituals.

‘Anandghana’ portrays the underlying romance and the love between the protagonists Anandi and Gopal.

‘Majhe Mauli’ following in the tradition of ‘gondhal’, is another catchy tune reminiscent of Pandharpur, warkaris and the path-breaking ‘bhakti’ movement of Maharashtra.

Last but not the least is my favourite ‘Tu Aahes Na’ (You are there aren’t you/ Tum ho na).

‘A salute to the spirit of womanhood’ is how the track was described and it truly lives up to that description. Showcasing woman power to the accompaniment of powerful ‘ragas’ or tunes, how much better can it get. (Below is a link to the multi-vocalist version of ‘Tu Aahes Na’ that features Jasraj Joshi, Avadhoot Gupte, Rahul Deshpande, Adarsh Shinde and Rohit Raut.)

This happened 130 years ago. To see how much we have evolved since then and more than that to see how much we have still blindly stuck to the centuries-old traditions, this movie is a must watch. An eye-opener to say the least, there is a takeaway for viewers of every generation in this film. Especially if you comprehend Marathi please don’t miss this movie, because the dialogues in the beautiful Marathi language are music to the ears in themselves.

Anandi Gopal Official Trailer

Anthem song of Anandi Gopal: Tu Aahes Na