Friday, December 15, 2023



Release date:

December 7, 2023


Zoya Akhtar


Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor, Suhana Khan, Vedang Raina, Mihir Ahuja, Aditi “Dot” Saigal, Yuvraj Menda, Suhaas Ahuja, Tara Sharma, Satyajit Sharma, Alyy Khan, Kamal Sidhu, Luke Kenny, Vinay Pathak  


Hindi and English


“I get a huge kick out of life. But I just don’t think about politics. What’s it got to do with my life?” Archibald/Archie Andrews asks his teacher Miss Grundy in reaction to his classmates’ concerns that the changes being wrought in their hill station, Riverdale, are driven by corporate interest, not public welfare. The year: 1964. But Archie echoes a standpoint adopted by so many people today too whose excuse for their silence on even fascism and genocide is, “I’m apolitical.”


The other students – all of them 17 – break into a song and dance to address Archie’s apathy, kicked off by Dilton Doiley singing: “In every fold of life, there’s politics.” It is with this lively passage that The Archies perks up, after a disappointingly bland 1 hour and 6 minutes. 


The Archies is the producer-writer-director Zoya Akhtar’s Hindi-English adaptation of the iconic US comic books. As you can imagine from the preceding paragraphs, Archie Comics – a frothy series about American high schoolers – provides just a sliver of a framework for Akhtar, Ayesha Devitre Dhillon and Reema Kagti’s script. The film’s updated politics, the decision to set it among Anglo Indians in north India and the non-stereotypical portrayal of the community are among The Archies’ exciting elements. Sadly, they are not effectively sewn together. The whimsicality Akhtar seems to have aimed at translates into low energy in the opening hour, and while the film picks up in the second half, it never fully recovers from the limpness of the first. 


Archie Comics began publication in the 1940s, revolving around an eponymous American teenager infatuated by the glamourous, wealthy and snobbish Veronica/Ronnie Lodge, and oblivious to the devotion of the pretty, golden-hearted and middle-class Betty Cooper. The vain and good-looking Reginald/Reggie Mantle was a flirt and Archie’s rival for Ronnie’s attentions. The other significant players included the gluttonous Jughead Jones, the muscular dimbulb Moose, the studious Dilton, and Ethel Muggs, a gawky girl smitten by Jughead who was repelled by her. 


In the early decades, “Archie and the gang” rarely rose above these basic characteristics. Their popularity was precisely because of this superficiality: the one-dimensional characters that did not strain the brain, a mild sense of humour, pretty outfits, pretty people, a clueless but non-malicious lead, and for Indian teens up to the 1980s, a glimpse into an alluring foreign land of tiny skirts and ice cream sundaes that were a rare sight here back then. Thankfully, Akhtar and her co-writers’ love of Archie Comics does not extend to the politics of the series that pitted two women against each other for a dull man’s affections, or the reductive gaze on the others. 


The manner in which the Ronnie-Archie-Betty triangle is turned on its head in The Archies is what intelligent adaptations are made of. (Spoilers: In the film, Archie dates multiple women without being honest with them. This quality is not pedestalised here unlike in conventional pop culture. Akhtar & Co’s Ethel calls Archie out for being a philanderer, and when Ronnie and Betty realise he is two-timing them, they tell him he’s not worth more than their friendship with each other.) It was also a smart move to situate the film among Anglo Indians, a community that traces its ancestry to the children of Indian and British parents in the colonial era. This allows The Archies to retain the names of the characters from the American comics – “Dilton Doiley” is a stretch, “Jughead Jones” required a backgrounder, but the rest could well be actual Anglo Indian names. Meanwhile, the north Indian location justifies the English-Hindi amalgam in the dialogues.


For the most part, however, the link between the film and the books is tenuous to the point of being superfluous. Reggie, for one, is nothing like the Reggie of the comics, barring a token allusion to an interest in Ronnie, and an introduction in which he makes out with a woman in a car. Akhtar’s Reggie is socially conscious, an aspiring journalist and a student activist. Sometimes the film introduces a connection to the books and promptly forgets it (the Archie-Ronnie-Reggie triangle, the Ethel-Jughead equation). Some characters are given short shrift (Mr Weatherbee, Pop Tate). Some are present but redundant (Moose). Akhtar and her team also seem not to have aimed for one of the hallmarks of Archie Comics, a sense of humour, unless you count Reggie’s Dad pooh-poohing his son’s prescient remark that comedy can be a career. Ha. Come visit us in 2023, Dad. 


Ultimately, there’s no satisfactory answer to why The Archies is an adaptation of Archie Comics rather than a brand new desi teen drama. This film is also no match for Akhtar’s track record as a director. It has neither the observational power of Luck By Chance, nor the ruminative depth and pizzazz of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do, nor the grit, gumption and visceral energy of Gully Boy. It does, however, come across as a personal work in its own way. 


Zoya Akhtar is 51, which means she was a teenager when Archie Comics were all the rage among Indian teens. She turned 18 in a decade when the country transitioned to satellite television. MTV and the desi youth platform Channel V epitomised adolescent and young-adult coolth in the rapidly transforming India of the 1990s. If The Archies per se is her tribute to the comics, then the casting in part is a bow to the ’90s, with some of MTV and V’s earliest Indian VJs being roped in to play senior characters – Kamal Sidhu is Ronnie’s mother, Luke Kenny is Reggie’s Dad, Vinay Pathak is a villainous neta. When you think of it that way, it’s sweeta sort of love letter to a generation. 


The casting of the young leads seems just as personal to Akhtar. It comes across as a big fat middle finger to the online mobs hurling charges of nepotism at her industry. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Archie in The Archies is played by Agastya Nanda, grandson of Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, and great grandson of Raj Kapoor; Ronnie is Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter Suhana Khan; in Betty’s role is Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter, Khushi Kapoor. 


The kids are neither great, nor awful. Khushi and Agastya are cute. She could be special. He lacks verve here, but comes alive while dancing. Suhana reveals a spark during Ronnie and Betty’s face-off over Mr Lodge. She could work on that. Would the trio have snagged such plum roles if it weren’t for their lineage? Unlikely. But it does not make sense to blame them entirely for the narrative’s limited vitality, which is a fault of the direction, although they do contribute to it. 


The rest of the cast are vastly better. The stand-out debutant is Vedang Raina playing Reggie. He can act, he can dance, he is handsome, but most important, he has screen presence and is born to be a star. Yuvraj Menda who plays Dilton and Dot i.e. Ethel are comfortable before the camera. 


The Archies is not a typical Bollywood musical. In terms of structure and sound, it is Bollywood’s nod to Hollywood/Broadway, although the background score (by Shankar Ehsaan Loy and Satya) and songs (by SEL, Ankur Tewari, The Islanders and Dot) are more distinctive and tuneful than what the average Hollywood/Broadway musical delivers. 


The most heart-warming aspect of The Archies is its depiction of Anglo Indians. Up to the 1990s, Hindi cinema inexorably stereotyped Christians, and confined the community to a clichéd notion of Goans and Anglo Indians. Christians almost disappeared from Hindi films thereon. The Archies’ characters are people, not cartoons. By not referencing their religion at all and focusing on their ethnic identity, Akhtar does something Hindi cinema has rarely done before: she points to diversity within a small religious minority. Anglo Indians, after all, are a minority within a minority. 


The diversity in this sub-group is also on display. While most women in The Archies wear dresses, as would have been the reality among 1960s Anglo Indians, note the women in saris and churidar kurtas especially in the opening montage and at the club. Farhan Akhtar’s dialogues are a smooth English-Hindi blend, with the kids mixing both, like city-bred youth across communities, while the adults are shown to have a spectrum of adeptness with Hindi – one parent struggles with “hoyenga” vs “hoga”, the others tease him about it. Sari/kurta-clad Anglo Indians who speak Hindi well are very much a reality, though you would not know that from Hindi cinema of a bygone era.  


The film even snubs its nose at the Right-wing that has always conflated Christians with British imperialists. The Archiescharacters are invested in India’s future and have contributed to our past. Reggie’s granddad, like many Christians, was a freedom fighter. The Archies is thus a lesson in showcasing patriotism truthfully, unlike the Akshay Kumar brand of propagandist cinema.


So, The Archies’ politics is worth rooting for. Normalised minority representation here extends to a gay boy who is not defined by his sexuality. Even the generic storyline is imbued with layers of meaning as it mimics real-world events in India today: big business buying politicians, corporates muzzling the press, and more. The storytelling is too flat for too long though to be redeemed.  


The kids in The Archies were born in 1947, and are 17 in the film. They embody an Independent India, but belong to a community that in today’s India is told they do not belong. The Archies has a lot to say about that and much else, but flubs its tone and tenor. When your source material is almost irrelevant to the point you wish to make, a floundering end product is perhaps inevitable. Akhtar could have heeded Archie’s father’s advice when the boy says he wishes to leave India for England to build a music career. “To make art,” says Dad, “you have to go in, not out.” 


Rating (out of 5 stars): 2.5   


Running time:

144 minutes 


Poster courtesy: IMDB 


  1. The last line was such a good way to end this blog. Loved it