© 2009 Santhana Films / Brian McKenzie / Screen Australia

“It is personality alone that remains unchanging and makes sense in any age or idiom.“

- R.K. Narayan


In 2004, veteran Australian director Brian McKenzie and producer Santhana Naidu were drinking tea and talking film in Brian’s kitchen. McKenzie threw out a challenge: “Why don’t you write something about India that we can make into a documentary?” Naidu went straight to his library and pulled out all the books by R.K. Narayan, the great Indian writer of whom V.S. Naipaul has said “wrote from deep within his community”. For Narayan, who died in 2001 aged 95, the streets of Southern India were a never-ending theatre and he used the English language to describe this world and its characters in a way that was magical for his readers.

Inspired by Narayan’s work and determined not to portray India as so many Westerners have done, Santhana Naidu wrote a series of stories set amongst the hundreds of small vendors and shops around the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, Southern India.


By 2005, Naidu’s Narayan-inspired narrative had been diverted into a quest to document the effects of the tsunami on the fishing villages of the Coromandal coast. However, the invisible hand of Narayan must have been at work, because on the first morning of their shoot in India, Naidu and McKenzie took a dawn walk through the back streets of Chennai and a different story began to write itself.

From their base camp in a children’s home in Kadapakkam, the film crew followed their characters into the full fury of a monsoon, up century-old coconut trees, across paddy fields lit up by the late evening sun with the sound of American cartoons blaring from a TV repair shop and through city streets seething with people whose lives were a “fat novel” in progress.


After five years and four separate trips, the fruit of the filmmaker’s labour is an extraordinary quintet of stories set in Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The five stories, each beautifully composed, illustrate the fragile nature of a worker’s day-to-day existence in this region with a wry humour and marked dignity. It’s a remarkably fresh cinematic experience, exploring a world that is intensely exotic for a Western audience, yet full of the humour and energy of everyday life.

The original music for MEET ME AT THE MANGO TREE was scored by Chennai-based duo Aravind-Shankar. Directed by Brian McKenzie to use only the original instruments for re-recording the soundtrack, Aravind-Shankar’s exquisite final score features mridangam, tabla, flute, guitar, bouzuki and double bass. The title piece is played by P.K. Ravi, the nagaswaram vidwan, which gives it a strong Southern flavour.


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