There isn’t enough comedy for a film on a comic book—The Archies isn’t cheesy at all. The conflict is external, which is to save a local park—smartly weaving in larger issues of media control and corporate ownership
Movie: The Archies
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Actors: Agastya Nanda, Suhana Khan, Dot
The Archies is a band. Which also makes this movie an attempt at a musical. The lead singer is Archie Andrews from Riverdale High, hence from the American comic-book series so popular that I don’t know anyone of my vintage who wasn’t obsessed with it at some point in their life in India.
I don’t know if desi GenZ or Gen Alpha are as much into Archie comics. Or if they play ‘name place animal thing’ or stapoo or statue anymore. They certainly don’t glug Gold Spot. You see the drink in a frame in this film.
Either way, Archie, as a love triangle between the female-magnet lead, and two girls—the gorgeous Veronica Lodge, and the plain Jane, Betty Cooper—he adores simultaneously, has led to at least two iconic Bollywood movies, namely, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH, 1998; first half), and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (JJWS, 1992).
For the reasons above, you must pardon me, as an audience, that I watched this film equally for what it is, and what it could’ve been. Let’s go over them bit by bit then.
Firstly, this film is not a campus romance set in Riverdale High. As much as it is a movie about a community in the fictional town called Riverdale, with Anglo-Indians almost exclusively its residents. Where is this town? Nowhere, really. Although it’s said to be North India in the early 1960s.
What could be its easy equivalent, with that many Christian surnames? Maybe Goa, which is where Mansoor Khan set his desi version of the American West Side Story, Josh (2000).
You could think of Riverdale as more like the hilly McCluskieganj in Jharkhand, similarly founded by a British gent, with a large Anglo-Indian population, once—this is where Konkona Sensharma more realistically set her period film, A Death in the Gunj (2016).
There is also Landour in Mussoorie for a possible location—but that’s more of a neighbourhood walk than a town. Speaking of which, Mussoorie does exist in this movie (even if in a passing dialogue).
The Beatles have been around for five years. Shammi Kapoor adorns film magazine cover. Cinthol soap is around. The newspaper Riverdale Gazette serves this small town, which was set up by a Britisher to take on the British, before independence, much like Hicky’s Bengal Gazette.
Outside of these stray, real-life references, that are always so much fun to spot—The Archies’ setting is so deliberately fable-like and self-contained that you have to ideally enter it as if inside the comic book itself.
It’s a wonderful world, to quote Frank Sinatra. The leap of faith is in place. Hence, a wide range of well-known characters, from elders/parents (Lodges, Coopers, Andrews, etc), to the kids, so many of them.
This is a purely ensemble cast film. Which isn’t surprising. It’s directed by Zoya Akhtar (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dil Dhadakne Do), and that’s really her thing.
In this context, that can have both its plusses and minuses. The plus is obvious. In the sense that you don’t singularly follow a hero’s journey, inevitably a mainstream cliché.
The minus, given the tight timeline (at two hours, 20), and progressively multiple roles, you don’t quite zero in on the leads, either—to get inside their heads, or flesh out a personal drama between them.
The camera is visibly a wide angle, lensing a group, rather than individuals. There isn’t enough comedy for a film on a comic book—The Archies isn’t cheesy at all. The conflict is external, which is to save a local park—smartly weaving in larger issues of media control and corporate ownership.
As an audience, you feel as if at a slight distance, therefore. Things look kinda low-key, and sufficiently ‘non-Bollywood’, if you may. That’s Akhtar’s creative choice.
Quite different from JJWS, although the music is impossible to match from that 1992, breezy masterpiece. And this is a pole apart from KKHH, of course, which worked so much for Shah Rukh Khan’s personal rizz (that’s the GenZ word for charisma by the way).
Young Agastya Nanda as the curly-haired Archie Andrews physically fits the part to the T, with Archie’s R on it, among other subtly designed fashion across this costume drama. The casual charm is unmissable. There’s an easygoing, chill-scene about him, rather than killer chemistry, necessarily.
As he goes about navigating Riverdale, with his love-interests, Veronica (Suhana Khan), Betty (Khushi Kapoor), and buddies Ethel (Dot), Reggie (Vedang Raina), Dilton (Yuvraj Menda), Jughead (Mihir Ahuja), who loves pork vindaloo, incidentally.
Such lovely debutants, finding their way in the world, and the film, at the same time—skating, dancing, singing, dipping, playing truth/dare... You wanna wish them well for a life in the movies.
What better debut than to inhabit a universe so universal that once upon a time, we even shopped at the unrelated Archie’s Gallery for cards and posters, some still chill at Pop Tate’s (a popular chain from Bombay’s Andheri). Archie was the great American dream, for Indians.
There are already seven seasons of Riverdale on Netflix. Still, what if The Archies, starring GenZ, was placed among current desi teenagers?
I guess, it couldn’t have captured the same innocence. But it would’ve been even more instructive for audiences like me, looking to make sense of kids, who’re no different from what they’re playing on screen.
And teenagers, chiefly, are obviously the target audience for this film—pushed by Netflix, globally, in a way that no Indian content has been, to this scale. Mustn’t let expectations interfere with the experience.
The second time on, I watched The Archies like a gentle, warm storyboard—imagining flipping pages in my formerly teenaged head (of the ’90s). Would I have read this special, double-digest issue, cover to cover? Yes. That’s when it’s nostalgia, max. Say cheese!