One felt she was represented, while the other didn’t get all the fuss—SMD’s Gen Z gals have strong opinions about Zoya’s star kid bonanza
Christalle Fernandes and Reet Mulchandani
‘I saw myself on screen’
Dir: Zoya Akhtar
Cast: Agastya Nanda, Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor
Growing up, summer vacations were synonymous with trips to the library to thumb through musty volumes of Archie’s comics with their pages yellowed. I knew the world of Riverdale as well as I knew IC Colony, which is, in some aspects, a different version of the fictional small-town of 1950s America. I say this because when I started watching The Archies, Zoya Akhtar’s version of the comics that have endured across generations, I was struck by a feeling I didn’t expect: relatability.
The “Indian” version of Riverdale—or Anglo-Indian, rather—is an adaptation that takes up the story of the comics literally. While literal adaptations don’t always work when it comes to popular stories (take Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, for example, which felt boring and unpredictable), I liked The Archies because it took me back to a world I was so used to inhabiting. It’s an unrealistic world that you can still get lost in, although it is tailor-made to appeal to a specific kind of demographic: young, aspiring Indians, seeking to seem cosmopolitan and worldly-wise. That’s perhaps the reason it was released on OTT and not cinemas.
The Archies starts off with a veneer of polish that seems artificial at first, but then turns out to be surprisingly endearing. In the film, which is two-and-a-half-hours long, Agastya Nanda embodies the clueless earnestness of Archie Andrews well, bringing out his teenage charm perfectly. As Betty Cooper, Khushi Kapoor is apt as the girl-next-door, while Suhana Khan sashays around as Veronica. If the film had not been based on Riverdale so strongly, it would have failed to leave a mark. It also seeks to explain the angst and uncertainty coming-of-age in a way that will resonate with today’s young Gen Z, who are cautiously venturing towards adulthood. The frame at the end of the movie, where the gang gambols together in the park, is a snapshot of young, happy teens on the cusp of adulthood.
What worked for the film was its portrayal of naive teenagers, trying to change the world. What didn’t was the fact that it is unrealistically perfect, a world in which everything can be solved by the determination and energy of youth.
But coming back to the relatability. Instead of indianising the characters, a believable context is created for them to exist: an Anglo-Indian community secluded away in the tree-laden expanse of North India. They wear dresses and hats, bake cakes, and sing along to Sam the Sham and The Pharaoah’s Wooly Bully, and mix up their hogas and honges and karega and karenges. It’s what I’ve grown up doing, and this feels like the smallest glimmer of representation.
During the latter half of the movie, when Archie is experiencing second thoughts about his moving to England for further studies, his father tells him, “This is our home, Archie. We’re a minority here. But this is our homeland.” Akhtar may not have intended the film to represent minority communities, but it did feel like that.
The Archies crew at a Netflix event earlier this year in Sao Paulo. Pic/Getty Images
‘It’s not revolutionary, it’s fun’
Dir: Zoya Akhtar
Cast: Agastya Nanda, Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor
When the Archies poster debuted, half the netizens seemed prepared to hate the movie already. The two main reasons being; “Ab iska bhi Indian version?” and the “launch of the star kids” flaring up the nepotism debate.
Not only has Zoya Akhtar delivered a seamless, plausible backstory for the hill-station setting of Riverdale- an Anglo-Indian community town- but despite the dearth of material, the star kids have also paid their dues. Khushi Kapoor carries the doe-eyed charm of Betty Cooper elegantly, Suhana Khan embodies a bratty yet lonely Veronica Lodge and Agastya Nanda manages to pull-off an innocuous Archie Andrews who is too confused to commit, without making you hate the character. However, it is Vedang Raina as Reggie who suavely steals the show, reminding you of a younger Ranveer Singh. Another stand out is Yuvraj Menda as Dilton, an extremely loveable, know-it-all nerd. The scene that stood out for me the most is a moment between these two, when Reggie tells Dilly, “I know how you feel for me and I know how hard it must be for you knowing that I don’t feel the same way. But I’m always here for you, as a friend.” Unlike most dialogues in the film which felt convoluted, this exchange felt sweet and sincere. Amongst the lead cast, we also have Jughead and Ethel, played by Mihir Ahuja and Dot who never really get a chance to make their mark.
Where for a musical where the film does fall short- ironically enough- are the songs. There’s none that I would search for after having watched the film or remember, at least not for the right reasons. The choreography in the party at Veronica’s house looks like they were angling for a unique, Wednesday-esque dance, but just ends up looking odd. Even Va Va Voom, which tried to have cutesy but awkward 70s bollywood dance steps only ended up looking awkward. To their credit, the actors manage to make it work.
The setting is the saviour. Reminiscent of the original comics, Akhtar’s light-hearted, bright-set frames are incredible to look at and make more sense than Netflix’s original Riverdale series. The film doesn’t try to cater to the adults. It doesn’t make teenagers look like they are trying to be 25. It maintains their freshness, naivety and understands what the charm of idealism looks like for a 17-year-old and the belief you have to change the world.
Where I think people are too harsh is in expecting Archies to have the same depth as a Gully Boy or a Dil Dhadakne Do. These catered to adults. But as the comics catered to kids, maybe the movie too is meant for kids? “But I grew up reading Archies,” you may say, but what you miss is that- yes, you grew up. The film is not meant to cater to your worldview as a millennial or GenXer today. It is for an audience much neglected by Bollywood, the kids, the Gen Alphas. I am sure it’s a movie I would have loved as a 13-year-old. So maybe just let it be that. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It can just be fun. Afterall, when was the last time Bollywood did something for them—Toonpur ka Superhero?