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Home > Entertainment News > Bollywood News > Article > Senorita in So Paulo

Senorita in São Paulo

Updated on: 23 June,2023 07:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

How director Zoya Akhtar travelled to Brazil with the youngling cast of The Archies, her first period film—that too with all debutants

Senorita in São Paulo

A still from The Archies

Standing behind us at the check-in counter to the flight to Sao Paulo, from Mumbai, was young Navya Naveli, actor Amitabh Bachchan’s grandchild, and sister of Agastya Nanda, who was to make his onstage debut at Tudum, Netflix’s slate-launch event, in Brazil. 

It would be the first time Nanda would make a public appearance. We notice that even on Google, the image that shows up for him is that of Zoya Akhtar, the director of his debut film, The Archies (that will drop on Netflix in November).

Not that we personally know Navya, so we didn’t say hi. But it’d be fair to assume she was travelling to Sao Paulo for her brother’s big night. Casual eavesdropping revealed she was off to Dresden instead (if we heard it right).

The seven-member, youngling, debutant cast of The Archies were on their own, without any minders, travelling on a regular flight. Which probably makes Akhtar, in a sense, the principal of Riverdale High, chaperoning these children on a school trip abroad?

Zoya AkhtarZoya Akhtar

Akhtar is clearly not pleased with this random analogy! “This is not the Von Trapp family. I am not their governess. I’m doing my own thing. They’re doing their own thing! I’m making a film about teenagers, so in that sense, they are teaching me. I’m too truant to be their principal,” she says.

We’d of course love to know all that she’s doing in Brazil. At the recent G20 convention in Srinagar, on films and tourism, what perhaps got discussed the most was how Indians travelling to Spain and Turkey had evidently shot up several times since the release of Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD, 2011), and Dil Dhadakne Do (DDD, 2015). It could be the same for Brazil, if Akhtar was to shoot her next film/series here! Has she been ‘recce-ing’?

She has been to Brazil as a tourist before, she says, “This time, it was for work, so it’s very different. I don’t think there is any filmmaker in the world, who wouldn’t want to shoot a film in Brazil. Everywhere you go, it’s just ‘character’ and ‘feel’.” Only half the globe apart from India, of course. 

Akhtar was in Sao Paulo to represent The Archies, her next release, that she’s still working on. It was the only Asian content showcased on the Tudum stage. Her cast performed to the film’s dance number, This is my story, suno.

Couldn’t help but wonder, what if one of the newbies had slipped, or fumbled—it can happen, and there are no retakes on a live show. What a global embarrassment it’d be to live down! Of course, none of that happened. 

The kids did fine. They had apparently rehearsed for two months for this live act, that lasted all of 40 seconds on stage. 

Which is just as well. Netflix is a stickler for time. We got five-odd minutes for the interview with Akhtar as well!  

Calling them kids, although Akhtar points out, “They’re young adults. But they’re adults!” They still look like such teenagers, even adorable mannequins, in fact—given that they walked down the Tudum red-carpet, as a group, in The Archies’ make-up and costume. 

Hardly saying a word to the cameras. “It’s too early for them to meet the press,” Akhtar says, as she takes us through all that went into turning them into onscreen characters. 

“They’ve worked really hard to do what they were meant to, and were born to. They went through a lot of screen tests to get here, firstly. What followed was a proper ‘boot camp’ over six months—acting workshops, with three-four different people, dance lessons with Bosco Caesar, [practicing] cycling, skating, for the girls… 

“They had to learn to sing. They’re lip syncing in the musical. But that too requires training. There’s an art to it. I just wanted them to feel free, so they’re not conscious on the set.”

In her decade-and-half long career, Akhtar has essentially worked with established actors, at least for the lead roles. She waited for years, searching for stars to headline her directorial debut, Luck By Chance (LBC, 2009). This is her first time with an entire bunch that’s never been on screen before. 

She says, “I’m kinda vicariously re-debuting with them. Because there is nothing like the experience of your first movie—you tend to forget that, get jaded [thereon], and start worrying about different things. 

“I felt a little spoilt, with a cast that’s so enthusiastic. At the same time, they’re not coming with any star-fittings. They’re literally part of the crew, that happens to be in front of the camera. There’s no baggage; only hunger and joy.”

Also, she adds, “It’s my first period film [set in 1964]—a musical, in terms of form and format. And it’s capturing something iconic—an adaptation, that I haven’t done before. Something new is what you always wanna do.” 

The Archies is based on the American comic series, pure, peak pop-culture: “It was our portal to the West. The only comic about teenagers—it wasn’t about super heroes, but regular kids. When this came to me, I thought—how often do you get paid to relive your childhood? And have fun with it! The concept of adapting a comic book, which means a mix of the real and fantasy, was enticing.”

Not in as many words, but Archie has already been adapted in various shapes in Bollywood. Think Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1993). Or consider Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)—what else was it? 

Shah Rukh Khan, 33 then, practically played Archie Andrews in the film’s first half. Khan’s daughter, Suhana, debuts as Veronica Lodge in The Archies, with Nanda as the protagonist, and Khushi Kapoor (Sridevi’s daughter), as Betty Cooper. 

Akhtar says, “Thematically, yes [we have dealt with this before]. But this is the OG Archies! So you can’t stay away from the [love] triangle, or Jughead [Vedang Raina] liking food, and there is Midge [Dot], Dilton [Yuvraj Menda]…” Big Moose too? “Of course.”

There is also the obvious trolling online that the film has been through, because of its lead cast, that are essentially Bollywood’s homegrown next-gen, although the rest are from outside the film industry as well. The other kind of barbs the film has attracted is something that Akhtar also faced before the release of DDD—that it was too much about stinking rich people! 

She says, “I don’t know if [the trolling] is about my films. It’s about all films now. Everyone gets trolled!” A funny tweet we came across about The Archies was about how Akhtar had finally shown Indians for what they always wanted to be—white people! 

She’s understandably not pleased to hear that: “Well, they are all Indians [on the screen]. Are you saying fair [skinned] people aren’t Indians? How do we define what an Indian looks like? It could be Hrithik Roshan. It could be Mr Rajinikanth, Diljit Dosanjh, or Mary Kom. That’s the beauty of India.”

That the film’s first trailer premiered at Tudum, Akhtar asks us what we thought of it. It doesn’t matter. It’s a long way before release. Plus, we tell her, she’s the only Indian filmmaker we know, who hasn’t once laid an egg, yet—from LBC, ZNMD, DDD, Bombay Talkies, Lust Stories, Gully Boy, down to her last release, as writer, Dahaad (on Prime Video). Seriously. No pressure. Just saying!

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