IN 1878, when Anandibai Joshee was 14, she gave birth to her first and only child. The baby lived for 10 days. This was five years before her departure for New York to study medicine, the first Indian woman to do so, at Woman’s Medical College in Pennsylvania. According to Caroline Healy Dall, who wrote her biography, the death of the infant sowed the seed for her wanting to become a doctor.
“A child’s death does its father no harm. But the mother doesn’t want it to die,” she wrote to a friend. Anandi had married Gopal Joshee when she was nine, left for USA when she was 18, and finished medical studies at 21. She died a year later in Pune at the age of 22.
The story of this brief but extraordinary life, the story of Anandi and her “eccentric” husband who went against the family, society and financial pressures to take the banned journey to “Christian land” and achieve what the couple desperately wanted, has attracted the attention of storytellers. There are two biographies, including Healy Dall’s that was published two years after Anandi’s death in 1886, a novel and a play depicting fictionalised versions of her journey. Now, the story will make its silver screen debut with Sameer Vidwans’ directorial venture, Anandi Gopal.
The Marathi film, which stars child actor Bhagyashree Milind as Anandibai and Lalit Prabhakar as Gopalrao Joshee, covers the story from their marriage, the ups and downs in their journey in India and Anandi’s travel to the US and her studies at the medical college.
Vidwans says that the short life that Anandibai lived was full of events and drama even before she left for the US. Gopal worked in the postal department and was transferred often; hence the couple had to travel and shift towns several times. She was born in Pune, grew up in Kalyan and then shifted to Kolhapur after her marriage. The couple then lived in various cities including Alibaug, Kutch, Serampore and Calcutta. In each of these cities, they faced many troubles as Gopal insisted that his wife is educated.
“I was very interested in the way their relationship changed over the years. When they got married, he became her parent, looking after her and educating her. As she grew into a young woman, they became lovers, and with her education and growth as a person, they bonded as friends. I have tried to portray this delicate equation between them,” said Vidwans, who started his career as a theater director and later shifted to cinema after doing a course in screenwriting from Film and Television Institute of India. He’s known for romantic comedies such as Time Please (2013) and Double Seat (2015).
He says that finding locations that would suit the 19th century setting of the film required a lot of research and legwork. The team also had to research other aspects such as language as well as songs, clothing and especially, the lighting as the film is set in pre-electricity period when houses were lit with oil lamps.
“We shot the film at 10-12 different locations in India. The US scenes were taken in Georgia. Considering that the Marathi used at that time was very different to today’s, we decided to have a mix of the two so as to avoid a disconnect with the modern audiences,” said Vidwans.
While it’s quite imaginable the kind of struggle that Anandi and Gopal faced while taking the bold step, Vidwans said that he considered that conveying the “inner struggle” of the two while fighting the external wo
rld as an important challenge for the film.
“It’s true that she died at the cusp of starting her career for which she and her husband fought an obsessive battle. But despite her young death, she inspired many other woman to take up the profession such as Rukhmabai who became a doctor in 1894,” said Vidwans.
Anandi Gopal releases in theatres on February 15