by Gaurav Sharma, AA Member, Founder and Director at Under Mango Tree Architects and a Visiting Associate Professor of Architecture

Medoo arrives in the canteen with his drawings.
Medoo arrives in the canteen with his drawings. © Pradip Krishen Archive.

I first saw Annie in 1997, when I was a first-year student of architecture at the School of Planning & Architecture (SPA) in New Delhi. The film was released almost a decade before, in 1989, and was shot on location at SPA. Although the characters in the film were fictional, ‘the mileu and settings’ were largely based on Roy’s experience as a student at SPA. The cast was a mix of SPA graduates, and seasoned as well as aspiring actors. The film was first shown on Doordarshan, the Indian State TV channel, in the year of its release. Even though the film went on to win two national awards, it was not commercially made available. A few people recorded the film on the night it was telecasted and it was these early copies that were passed on from one person to the other. Over the years the film acquired a cult status. 

As I moved through architecture school, some of the actors and personalities associated with the film came to life. Jagan Shah, who plays Medoo, was our second-year studio tutor. Golak Khandwal lectured us on semiotics. Roy had become an author and a political activist by then. She also came to lecture but chose to speak on nuclear non-proliferation and not architecture. Roy wrote the screenplay for the film and also played one of the central characters – Radha. In 1997, Roy won the booker prize for her first book ‘God of Small Things’. Professor Jhabvala (the inspiration behind the much feared Professor Billimoria/Yamdoot) had long retired by then. However, his portfolio of drawings was enshrined in the library as the touchstone of the art of pencil sketching. By the time I graduated in 2002, I had inherited a copy of the film – a grainy version on a CD.


Cut to 2012. During an animated discussion at a London pub on architecture related films, I was surprised that Annie was relatively unknown outside India. This gave me an excuse to look for my old CD. With fresh eyes and avoiding straps of nostalgia I watched the film again.