Even a glitzy Bollywood premiere couldn’t save the disappointment that The Archies was. Zoya Akhtar tried to send us into nostalgia with this Indian adaptation of the much-loved American comics, all for vain. The film is packed with an experimental cast, which is only one of the reasons for its disillusionment. What The Archies fails to do is hook the viewer’s attention – it is a struggle to not get distracted while watching it. The movie is a poor telling of a lot of ideas, all mixed into one plot.
As in the comics, The Archies a group of teenagers who set out on an…adventure. Except, this group is Anglo-Indian, and is based in Riverdale, an equally Indian town. The existence of Riverdale also had to be explained in the beginning of the film, for the make-believe aspect. The Archies come together to fight some corporate baddies out to seize a land close to their identity, and history. All of this unfolds against the glamour of the 60s, complete with rock and roll gatherings and tweed fashion.
The film is a hodge-podge of many elements: friendship, teen romance, relationship with parents, identity, and the idea of home. Everything runs into each other and is not given its complete treatment. All elements are given a conflict of their own, and are given a forceful resolve in an attempt to tie the ends. The main theme of the good vs. bad fight is overshadowed by Archie’s romantic dilemma between Veronica and Betty. Even the tensions in Veronica and Betty’s friendship is forced, and resolved quickly just to get back to the main theme. Veronica’s father, Hiram Lodge, is in pursuit of seizing an iconic Riverdale attraction for a project. He then causes parents’ of Archie’s friends a lot of trouble, by threatening their livelihoods. Matters as serious as this are neither made light of, nor given the necessary amount of depth. The smallest of points in the story, however, do grow on you. Archie and his father, Fred, share a great moment when the former has prepared himself to leave Riverdale. He is constantly iterating the idea of Indian Riverdale as home, despite their roots that are oceans away.
Then there are the main characters, which were nowhere to the mark. Archie is passionate about Riverdale, but is equally resolute in wanting to leave it for London. At least Moose clarifies things he doesn’t understand, given his role as the dim-witted one in the group. Archie continues to be in a
delulu delusion, while his friends grapple with personal challenges. Save for Veronica, neither character is given its due justice in the film. The supporting characters of Jughead, Moose, Ethel came off a lot better than their main counterparts.
It is truly surprising that a Zoya Akhtar film has turned out to be so flat. Akhtar has headed titles that have become cult favorites in modern Indian cinema – she herself is a key member of this period. Her works so far are beautifully layered pieces, each with themes that hit home for its viewers. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara holds a special place in the hearts of many. There was a major emotional and mental connection with Akhtar’s films, which is completely absent in The Archies. Akhtar imagines a completely American entity to be somewhat related to India, which is much too exaggerated.
Despite this movie being the debut for many, the only one who stood out was Aditi Saigal, aka Dot. Her performance as Ethel was better than the other characters, even eclipsing that of Betty’s (Khushi Kapoor). Suhana Khan also delivers her part well, playing the spoiled Veronica Lodge. She is filthy rich, but is also equally smart and quick with comebacks. Mihir Ahuja also does a good job of playing Jughead, better than his best friend Archie, played by Agastya Nanda.
The Archies has to be lauded for its production design, hands down. Susanne Caplan Merwanji has done a stunning job of creating the world of Riverdale. It seems like a fantastical land, something off of fairy tales. It resembles the world building that Wes Anderson does, except his films are purposely made to resemble a children’s story book. Whether it was Zoya’s aim to make the childlike-ness of it to shine through, Merwanji has hit the brief given to her. But alas, The Archies seems like a simulation is playing out in this unreal world in front of you – hollow, yet good looking.
The Archies, in all, dampens all the expectations that viewers had before watching it. Despite all the 60s nostalgia, and the impromptu dance breakouts, there is little that saves the film from being disappointing. There is so much in the film that it seems a little too much for it all to be summed by the end. So much went into creating a buzz for this that the film doesn’t make a mark on people who actually read the comics. But yes, it does a somewhat job of escapism, albeit making it very difficult for viewers to stay in that make-believe world.
The Archies is streaming now on Netflix.