The Archies—Clever re-imagining blunted by the ‘gay’ angle

Vedang Raina as Reggie Mantle, Khushi Kapoor as Betty Cooper, Suhana Khan as Veronica Lodge, Agastya Nanda as Archie Andrews, Yuvraj Menda as DIlton Doiley, Mihir Ahuja as Jughead Jones, Dot as Ethel Muggs in The Archies. Photo: Netflix

Entire generations were hooked onto Archie comics for decades—I would not know what Gen-Y and Gen-Zee think of the entire canon. With a personal collection of over 200 comics and digests, I remember imagining the world of Archie as a Hindi film and mentally casting the leads way back in the 1980s. Of course, I never dreamt of transferring Riverdale to India.

Which this film has done very imaginatively! Set in the 1960s, The Archies, more than being a Hindi film, is a Hinglish film, which automatically means that it will have a poor response as a theatrical release. But it is all done very skillfully: Riverdale is now a flourishing, very British-‘hangovered’ (to coin a term) hill station in North India and the main characters in the school here are all shown as Anglo-Indians, who never left India when we became independent. All the original names are retained, and so we see only one non Anglo-Indian (Veronica’s maid with a kumkum on her forehead) of any significance.

The add-on characters, mainly the devious Dawson (hammed by Vinay Pathak), are also Anglo-Indians, and there is politically-correct talk like them not leaving India as India is their home. (Archie is said to be born in 1947, the year of Indian Independence). The mid-1960s saw a surge of idealism, especially in the Indian youth, and this is addressed by the topical-today theme of protecting the environment rather than pandering to a baser lust for Mammon.

The music also reflects the 1960s—classical Western with influences that had come in then, as some Western musical icons are even mentioned. Zoya’s last film, Gully Boy, had a song each by some 18 composing entities, and here we have three entities (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Ankur Tewari and Dot., also a key actress here, and actually named Aditi Saigal) doing the score, with Javed Akhtar top-lining the lyrics writers.

Eye-candy is there for the viewer more in the fascinating sets of the small town—the school, the cottages, mansions, offices, shops, lanes and promenades—than in the pretty girls who adorn the high school in which the teenage principal cast is studying. For this, cinematographer Nikos Andritsakis and the production design and sets teams Suzanne Caplan Merwanji, Roshan Vichare and Dhara Jain, the make-up and costumes heads Anisha Chawla, Natasha Nischol and Poornamrita Singh deserve eternal credit—and high praise. The background score (Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Jim Satya) is of high caliber, while the songs work within the film, with a substantial chunk of them being in English and having simple but meaningful lyrics.

And yes, the highest marks go to the wonderful team of choreographers. The dances are all fabulously—nay! Magnificently done and the actors’ hard work is transparent.

Director-co-writer Zoya Akhtar charts out a simple tale that involves the leading traits of all the principal characters and ensures that the money-obsessed Mr. Lodge does not finally emerge as a villain. Not much attention is given to the principal, Mr. Weatherbee, the teacher, Mrs. Grundy and Pop Tates, while Midge is also sidelined. Reggie is also shown as a basically righteous unlike his original arrogant avatar. His flirtations with Midge, as Moose’s girlfriend, which irritates Moose no end, are simply absent. Moose is simply incredibly ‘Duh!’ for someone who has reached high school, as in the comic books.

Zoya’s variety in cinema decidedly brings her now into the list of the best Hindi film directors of this millennium, as she has made it a point to tap fresh genres each time, and done that well too. After a ho-hum yet engaging Luck By Chance, she has scored in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dil Dhadakne Do and especially in Gully Boy.

But there is one major glitch—and that comes from a supposedly globally trendy intrusion (not inclusion!) that is in a hint of a gay relationship—Dilton Doiley, the genius in the gang, is shown to like Reggie, who however cannot reciprocate. I am surprised and more than a shade disturbed that the original copyright owners and co-producers have allowed this deviant and needless departure, defiling our images of a college gang that everyone has loved for decades.

But for this, The Archies, as a re-imagination of a cult comic universe, is well done, and the young and veteran talents do well too.  Agastya Nanda is a born star and a true chip off the Bachchan block. His fluid demeanor, easy expressions and carefree smile and body language mark him out as a future star.

Though shown to be exceptionally coquettish, Suhana Khan shows great promise as a future actress, and Khushi Kapoor, as Betty, is remarkable as well. Vedang Raina as Reggie, Mihir Ahuja as Jughead, Aditi Dot. Saigal as Ethel and Yuvraj Menda as Dilton Doiley shine. Rudra Mahuvarkar as Moose and Suhaas Ahuja as Fred stand out from the rest. The film also digs out Alyy Khan, Luke Kenny, Tara Sharma, Delnaaz Irani and Kamal Sidhu from the past and gives them significant roles.

As a Archies-based movie, this one’s above-average, but as a Hindi film, it is a shade vacuous and tepid as well. And the Dilton angle pulls it down firther.

Rating: ***1/2

Netflix present Tiger Baby Productions’, Graphic India’s & Archie Comic Publications’ The Archies  Produced by: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti & Sharad Devarajan  Directed by: Zoya Akhtar  Written by: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Ayesha Devitre Dhillon & Farhan Akhtar based on characters created by John L. Goldwater & Bob Montana  Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Aditi Saigal (Dot.), Ankur Tewari & The Islanders  Starring: Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor, Suhana Khan, Mihir Ahuja, Aditi Saigal (Dot.), Yuvraj Menda, Rudra Mahuvarkar, Suhaas Ahuja, Vinay Pathak, Tara Sharma, Satyajit Sharma, Koel Purie, Alyy Khan, Kamal Sidhu, Luke Kenny, Santana Roach, Rudra Mahuvarkar, Delnaaz Irani, Nikhil Kapoor, Ashok Banthia & others








Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here