Frame #8 : When stairs stare at you in “Anjali”

I love Anjali for many cinephile and personal reasons. One of them is the way Mani Ratnam depicts the life of a upper middle class neighborhood. Chitra (Revathi) and Shekar (Raghuvaran) move on in a new flat, with their children Arjun and Anu (Tarun, Shruthi Vijayakumar). While the family happily play cat and mouse in the apartment’s stairwell, all neighbors watch and admonish them for being so noisy. And that’s when Mani Ratnam and his cinematographer, Madhu Ambat, create this remarkable frame.

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Stairs are a recurring element in cinema history, be it to create beautiful visual compositions or to symbolize on screen the psychology of characters, or the vertiginous situation in which they are stuck. Think about the famous stairs scenes in Alfred Hitchcok’s filmography, in Christopher Nolan’s or in Mani Ratnam’s. In these scene, the extreme low angle shot is an effective visual technique to show the family’s point of view on their new neighbors and to emphasize this social pressure : in a kind of metonymic symbolization, neighbors first appear to us as a multitude of inquisitive and oppressive eyes populating the apartment stairwell. In fact, in the major part of the film, Chitra and Shekar’s neighbors remain intolerant, non understanding and harsh towards Anjali because of her illness. Think about this neighborhood’s society meeting where Chitra and Shekar are summoned to hear by some of the big shots (Charu Haasan, Poornam Viswanathan and V.K Ramasamy) that Anjali, a “mental case”, should not be raised in their colony. Moreover, Anjali reflects Mani Ratnam’s meticulous film architecture, as the director reuse this same frame later in the film, when Shekar tries to prevent Chitra from leaving the house with children and luggages : same low angle shot, same stairs, same neighbors staring and admonishing them, but this time, Shekar overcome the social pressure of the neighborhood and tell them to shut up and mind their own business.


Shakila Z.