New Delhi: ‘Anek’ is a film that talks too much about the neglected North East India without showing much of it’s layered and deeply troubled history. But, perhaps, that is a tricky balance that many films that address war, political conflict strive for. ‘Anek’ stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Andrea Kevichüsa, Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa.
It is great to see the three- Ayushmann, Kumud, and Manoj collaborate again with Anubhav Sinha to bring yet another deeply layered political text in the form of ‘Anek’ after ‘Article 15’.
Who is What in Anek
Ayushmann Khurrana: An undercover up posted in the North-East to help establish a peace accord and bring down militancy of the Johnson group
Manoj Pahwa and Kumud Mishra: Important political figures of Delhi who want to get this accord signed for political reasons/elections/control etc.
Andrea Kevichüsa : Plays an aspiring boxer who wants to get selected into the Indian team so that her voice, that represents a part of India no one bothers about, can be heard
‘Anek’ is a deeply political film with too many sub-texts like racism, representation, peace, control, armed conflict, progress, individualism, patriotism etc. etc. Naturally it is difficult for a film or any art form to address all of these with perfection and do justice to all.
Anubhav Sinha makes an interesting mixtape of silences and music to address difficult and unspoken realities like that of inherent racism of the Indian hinterland against North East India.
He does this in the opening sequence that immediately shows us that the prime targets of any power/control struggle is the lesser represented, ‘minority group’, people with lesser opportunities etc.
In the best sequence of the film, where we see one of the characters, a young boy( Niko) get initiated into a militant group called Johnson, the same use of music and silence brilliantly brings out the burden of conflict and everyday survival.
‘Anek’ uses a lot of Ayushmann Khurrana’s voiceovers, sometimes mixed with those of Andrea to tell their story, the ongoing struggles on-screen and sometimes deliver important political messages that hardly get covered in the mainstream. It almost felt like the filmmaker wanted to say everything in this film about the struggles of that part of India which is deeply misinterpreted.
And, considering that film is an expensive medium and the topic which it addresses so barely discussed, an educated part of me would like to excuse this setback.
‘Anek’ uses an eclectic mix of long shots, wide angles and closeups, a very documentary style approach touched up with music and personal notes to make it look feature-like.
All important characters of the film are brutally held in long close-ups to reveal their mental struggles and like a character says in the film ‘tragedies of their lives’.
Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Andrea Kevichüsa, Kumud Mishra, and Loitongbam Dorendra (who plays Tiger Sanga, leader of separatist movement in parts of North East) are all held in close-ups uncomfortably during moments when it is difficult to choose any one side.
If Loitongbam Dorendra is giving an interview to a journalist about ‘not feeling Indian’ and about ‘the diversity of the nation-state’, his closeups reveal that there is a 60-year old history behind why he says so. And, even though the gravitas of the burden of that 60-year old struggle shows on his face, it is not duly complimented with footage on screen.
Ayushmann Khuraana, on the other hand, plays this stoic undercop who is the obviously-good-at-heart hero but a mere pawn in the hands of political figures.
His closeups reveal the tension between the political rhetoric that is fed from the top and the ground reality he sees on the ground where he works.
The use of wide-angles in documentary style is mostly to heighten a sense that felt like ‘what is human life in this vast expanse of universe’.
Lots of long shots to show innocent people in the vast terrain of beautiful countryside or desolate landscapes with children returning home from school unaware and yet-to-be-touched like the landscape with brutal armed conflict between differing ideologies that want control or peace.
But, for some reason, Andrea’s performance stood out for its naive innocence/vulnerability and maturity that a difficult life in her world has taught her. Her struggle feels just more relatable.
Likewise, as discussed earlier, Niko’s initiation into the militant group is also the best standout moment in ‘Anek’ that perfectly delivers everything that the filmmaker wants the audience to think about.
Ayushmann Khurrana and Manoj Pahwa also deliver difficult roles with ease. At some places, Ayushmann’s role felt way too micromanaged that it became a mouthpiece of the ideology of the script if not the filmmaker.
Almost every topic that ‘Anek’ addresses has a strong rebuttal. The film is filled with such contrasts and dilemmas that make it layered.
And, other such binaries are explored through personal and political conflicts between characters. For instance; the struggle between a daughter and father for an ideological cause that separates them.
One wants to be in the Indian boxing team to become a voice so strong that people listen to her and her part of the world; and the other wants to be the voice of people by helping them create a separate country outside India.
Contrast is also used in the way the film is shot where scenes of violence are attacked with pristine scenes of untouched beauty, without romanticizing it in any way. Or the way music is used at the mindless deaths of people, contrasting two ways of life.
I cannot but forget to mention bodies of soldiers and militants lying across a stream of clean flowing water that mixed the blood of both.
The first-half of ‘Anek’ is heavily loaded to give the history and backdrop to the context of the film, and thus slow. In contrast, the second-half picks up pace and becomes aggressively violent as it nears the film’s climax.
The background score of ‘Anek’ is a great narrative device that helps polish crude areas of the text. Sequences of violence have crescendo music or soft numbers reminding you of this classical trope of Hollywoodian war films.
In other places, music heightens the tone of a scene or an emotion where the character needs it the most. Like Andrea’s character(Aido) winning a gold medal for India, or the fake Johnson being shot etc etc.
The two songs that play out in full are also loaded with metaphors regarding India as weak commercial devices that could have been avoided.
‘Anek’ is richly loaded with political text and makes many meta comments on films. The dialogue also is politically sensitive and sarcastic to mainstream rhetoric in many places.
‘Anek’ is beautifully complimented by the landscape it is shot in; the good-beautiful and ugly of it all.
In all, ‘Anek’ is an important film that needs as much attention as a film like ‘The Kashmir Files’ gets. It addresses a different sphere and part of the country, a different ideology and an important assertion of freedom of speech.
Watch it for how different it is from the regular action-jingoistic-patriotic films that are fed to us.
‘Anek’ will stream on Netflix post its theatrical run.
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