Anek movie cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, J D Chekravarthy, Andrea Kevichusa, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra
Anek movie director: Anubhav Sinha
Anek movie rating: 2.5 stars
The North East states, long been dubbed the ‘seven sisters’, a phrase which has fallen into disuse these days, is the focus of Anubhav Sinha’s ‘Anek’. The title is smart, incorporating not only the acronym ‘NE’, but also talking up how this part of India, long a hotbed of insurgency and turmoil, can now be brought within the fold.
Is the film a reality check, or wish fulfilment? Sinha, who has been consistently engaging with the political in his second coming (communal politics in ‘Mulk’, gender politics in ‘Thappad’, caste politics in ‘Article 15’) dips his toe into relatively unexplored territory, with mixed results. Attempting to unravel the complex layers of a region still considered remote and faintly foreign by a large swathe of India, is in and of itself brave, and the director who has also written the movie, takes on the challenge manfully.
But the difficulties of being fully cognizant of the North East’s many-layered facets weigh upon the film: in trying to say it like it is, as well as please the many players which currently train a hawk’s eye on what the movies say and how they say it, it becomes neither this nor that.
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In Mani Rathnam’s 1998 ‘Dil Se’, Shah Rukh Khan’s All India Radio reporter Amar becomes the medium through which we hear the voice of Assam’s gun-toting insurgents, as well as their sympathisers. So many years later, it is Ayushmann Khurrana’s Aman who, despite being a much more active and propulsive instrument of the state, does something similar in trying to become that conduit.
Belonging to a state-owned radio network, Amar moves from asking statist questions to looking at how long-term oppression by the armed forces, and central neglect, has impacted the people of Assam. Here, the undercover agent Aman ricochets between his feelings for the attractive Aido (Andrea Kevichusa), a talented boxer who wants to play for India, and his loyalties towards those who employ him. Part of what the film attempts is to show how Aman moves from one end of the spectrum, where he is merely following instructions, to become aware of more – not just the girl with her boxing dreams, but also a mother and teenage son who are victims of the games being played on the ground, and a man who may represent what ‘the people’ want. We get a series of expository statements, but the leading man, and the film stays woolly, being careful to stay in the middle of the while-on-the-one-side, but-also tightrope.
Machinations in Delhi, ably carried out by senior sarkaari officials (Manoj Pahwa pointedly playing a Kashmiri Muslim, and Kumud Mishra smiling darkly through his crafty babu) pull strings in the faraway state where we see people play football, sing songs, strum the guitar, and land punches in the ring, all the stuff people do ‘in the North East’. We hear racist, crude remarks like ‘chilli chicken’ (one among the many pejoratives used for people from the North East) being flung about. We see rows of young men, their hands tied to bamboo sticks, being beaten mercilessly. We see a rag-tag bunch of armed insurgents being caught in the crossfire: one is a young boy who wants to be a farmer, another just ‘wants to go home’. We see a powerful leader who is pushing for ‘peace’, but is involved in all kinds of illegal activities. These are strong strands but they never quite become an impactful whole: while the film is at it, we are also given, inexplicably, a rah-rah ‘Uri’-like moment, where a surgical strike takes place and the mission is successful.
Aman speaks of his belief in the Constitution more than once. He also gets an ‘Article 15’ moment when he brings up the vexed ‘Who Is An Indian’ question, sparring with another man on the same mission (J D Chekravarthy), on a hillside. While they go back and forth, ranging all over the country (Andhra/ Telangana/ Tamil Nadu/ UP/ Bihar/ Kashmir), we know exactly how it will end. That we are all Indians, that there is ‘ekta’ in ‘anek’ (unity in diversity). Aman tells us we should hear ‘the people’ more than just once -in-five-years ; we should hear them all the time. For a film which states this so firmly, and so many times, we have to strain to hear those voices.
Once in a while we also hear the deep-rooted cynicism that immediately cuts close to the bone, and which belongs much more to what this film is striving for: do ‘they’ want ‘peace’ or ‘a peace accord’? There’s a difference, and only those who know, know. There’s also this: ‘who really wants peace, because war is much more profitable’. These are the moments which feel true. And then the film swings back to its springy safety net. Conviction or cop-out? Your decision will depend on which side of the fence you are on.