The last thing I expected from Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies was commentary on the current state of Indian politics. But cleverly hidden between the lines of what at a surface level seems like a whimsical romcom intended to launch a prestigious line of nepo babies is a story about the struggles of being a minority in a country that is driven by the capitalistic greed of certain businessmen.
In the fictitious town of Riverdale lives most of India’s Anglo-Indian population. Despite being given an opportunity to move to a nation where they are a majority, they choose to stay back in their motherland. The main plot of the film revolves around safeguarding their heritage against a business tycoon that has colluded with the head of the city council. Archie and his friends try everything but soon realize that they live in a world where the sacred pillars of democracy, including a free press, are easily bought by fat wads of money. Archie’s father Fred goes so far as to say that had they left at the time of independence, it would have been as if they never existed – that India was never home to such a cosmopolitan population. Does any of it ring a bell?
Archie’s main conflict in the film is to decide whether he should run away from it all or stay back and fight for the rights of his people. The messaging is so on the nose that I am surprised none of the mainstream reviewers have mentioned it. The main theme plays repeatedly throughout the film, reminding us “Humari kahaani suno, humaari zubaani suno (come and listen to our story in our own words).”
The cast, especially Suhana Khan (who plays Veronica), is surprisingly endearing. Suhana might not be the best actor around at the moment, but her charm makes her incredibly easy on the eyes. I wish I could say the same about the Archie in question – Agastya Nanda. I found him forgettable, and Vedang Raina’s character and performance as Reggie made him the lead in my eyes. Khushi Kapoor in her first outing was also far more tolerable than her elder sister.
Sadly, to my great dismay, The Archies is a western style musical. I could have gotten over my prejudice for the genre had the music been any good, but alas that was not the case. The lyrics, penned by Javed Akhtar, were uncharacteristically corny. A song about everything being political was the only one that made enough of an impression to register in my brain.
At its core, The Archies is a testament to the naïve enthusiasm of young adults and students that enables them to unionize and take a stand against an oppressive regime. Is it overly simplistic in its depiction of the subject? Maybe, but in testing times like these, I would like to believe that sometimes the answer is just that simple.