A place where children always find the spotlight

Ahead of Children’s Day, a look at Aasiana Apartments which stands where Venus Studios was earlier situated and Mani Ratnam’s Anjali was largely shot, especially the scenes involving a gang of children. During the pandemic, kids at Aasiana have been bringing back memories of that iconic film, but in a manner that has 2020 written all over it

A still from Anjali.  

The 1990 Mani Ratnam blockbuster Anjali, which provided a glimpse of gated-community living, had a sub-plot involving an uncontrollably exuberant gang of children. As a collective, these children were portrayed as quick-witted and nimble-footed, and this meant that their pranks found their targets — the grown-ups — as uncannily as a cruise missile. The storytelling device did wonders for the film, adding to its humour component, and it operated on the underlying idea that these children were on an equal footing with the older population at the gated community.

Fast forward to 2020, this idea is asserting itself, on a hugely different platform and with a lot more reverence for the grown-ups involved, but on the same spot where much of the film, particularly the scenes involving the children’s gang, was shot.

Aasiana Apartments on Second Cross Street in Venus Colony in Chennai stands on the land where Venus Studios was earlier situated and Mani Ratnam’s iconic film was largely shot (more on it later).

During the pandemic, Aasiana Apartments shifted many of its regular social activities online, especially those pertaining to culture and entertainment, and the children at the community found an equal footing with the grown-ups. With their digital skills, they were in fact often in the driver’s seat, steering these online initiatives.

Usha Manoj, committee member of the residents’ association and a key member of the entertainment committee, points out that a tech support team consisting entirely of children played a central role in this online social engagement.

“This year’s Navarathri celebrations were conducted online. Videos of kolus in the households would be compiled together, and every day, a compilation would be sent out to the residents. The children’s tech support team — Manasa (13), Shambhavi (11), Sukriti (15), Ayush (14), Aarush (13), Rohith (13), Avikshit (12), Rakshit (11) and Rishi (12) — would work on these videos, editing them, and adding titles and captions, and also background music to them,” says Usha.

Children of Aasiana Apartments. Photo: Special Arrangement  

She continues, “Wherever residents were diffident about shooting videos of their golus, members of the children tech team would land up at their doorsteps, shoot the videos and have them edited — all in short order. On each of the nine days of Navarathri, one lady from community was on MC duty, introducing the golus. The children shot the MC speeches too. Besides this, seven children came up with a skit based on the Navarathri theme, wrote the script for it, directed it, shot a video of it, added background music to it. They executed each stage of the work without any help.”

Not only Navarathri, even other festivities have had a digital touch of the Generation Z, and in some cases even Generation Alpha.

“The children helped in editing dance videos,” says Usha. “At our community, Halloween provides an occasion for social interaction and entertainment. Normally, people would dress up, come down and do trick or treat. This year, I voted against it. So, we just had a virtual celebration, which was made engaging, thanks to the children’s tech team. They did all the Halloween collage videos and photos, complete with spooky background music.”

Usha points out that the children did not wake up to this role, but have been growing into it steadily over the years.

“They have been integral to many of the activities conducted at the community,” she explains. “During last year’s Navarathri celebrations, the paper bags made by the children at the community were used to give away thamboolams. We have an Asiana Green Club for children that introduces them to sustainability. When we launched source segregation at the community level, at each of the the 11 blocks, children went from door to door, with the charts they had prepared, to tell every household how waste should be segregated, and the purpose served by each bin.”

Usha also draws attention to how the community supports young upcycling wizards and sustainability champions by showcasing their efforts, by circulating it around in the community’s online groups and, also displaying it on the noticeboards in the blocks.

One of them is 13-year-old Aarush, who has a ability to turn waste into works of art.

Aarush makes works of art from discarded items. Photo: Special Arrangement  

“In his hands, twigs turn into wands. He upcycles waste into gift items, which he presents to children at the community celebrating their birthday,” says Usha.

The Anjali connection

The parents of Shruti Vijaykumar — more well-known as Baby Shruti to a generation of Tamil-film aficionados — who played one of the three children to Raghuvaran and Revathi in the film, are residents of Aasiana Apartments.

Is there any particular season for buying a flat in this community, which was handed over to the buyers in 1997?

“It just happened, you know. My mother-in-law, my husband and I came to see this place. My mother-in-law liked the house a lot,” recalls Mano Vijaykumar, Shruti’s mother.

Did the fact that Venus Studios had been located there, and Shruti had acted in a film that was shot there do anything with the choice?

“Not really. My mother-in-law is not so emotional. She is very practical. She liked the house. It is close to where we were living,” laughs Mano.

Aasiana Apartments was handed over to the owners in 1997. Anjali released in 1990, and the film gave viewers a sense of life in a fully-functional gated community, which was refreshingly new as life back then was largely lived horizontally in individual plots.

How much of the film was shot in this property where Venus Studios was located, and how?

“The house you see was all sets. The inside of the house was all part of the sets. If it looked so real, it is because of art director Thota Tharani. To create the illusion of a gated community, scenes were shot in other places. The stairwell scene was shot at Gee Gee complex in Nungambakkam,” explains Mano.

Anjali is the only film Shruti Vijaykumar has ever acted in, and that won her a National Award.

Says Mano, “She lives in Boston, United States, is married, and has two daughters; she works as business analyst.”

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