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A Review of Archies: Beyond the Nepotism Debate

A tale of friendship, love, conflict, and community.

In Zoya Akhtar's latest Netflix film, The Archies, Archie Andrews quips, "I wish I had two hearts." I felt the same way after watching the Indian film adaptation of the beloved Archie Comics. One heart loved the charming production design and cultural significance while the other ached for Akhtar's enchantment. I'm torn between admiration and longing, just like the Archies.

A Review of Netflix Archies: Beyond the Nepotism Debate

Of course, this is not the first time that the Archie comics have influenced Hindi films. In her book Bollywood's India: A Public Fantasy (2015), film scholar Priya Joshi writes about how popular comic books inspired Raj Kapoor's Bobby (1973). Karan Johar writes in his autobiography An Unsuitable Boy (2016) that he was a big fan of Archie comics and that they inspired his first feature film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). The film, which stars Kajol, Shah Rukh Khan, and Rani Mukherjee in the central Betty-Archie-Veronica love triangle, has received considerable criticism over the years for its problematic gender politics, with even Johar recently criticizing it. The Archies is the franchise's first Indian adaptation as well as the first feature film based on Archie Comics characters.

Akhtar has previously investigated the contours of class and gender politics in films such as Dil Dhadakne Do (2018) and Gully Boy (2019). The solutions her narratives suggest, however, ignore the structural imbalances that cause them in the first place. Her choices are always firmly focused on the personal, rather than the social. The Archies is no exception. People speak in a mash-up of Hindi and English, older women wear saris, and Bollywood is the strong cultural touchstone in the dance numbers, even though everyone is on rollerskates. The Archies are successful because they do not overthink their very existence.

Not every genre film needs to be out of the ordinary, which is a fitting lesson given the corny material and characters that "The Archies" so lovingly riffs on. Akhtar's recreation of the quaint fictional town is an idyllic cottage-core fantasy in which trousers are perfectly ironed, cakes are pristinely decorated in Lambeth style, and bikes with woven baskets are brimming with freshly collected flowers. Regardless of the setting, it quickly becomes clear that, while escapist, Riverdale is not exempt from the cruelty of our actual lived reality, which appears in the film in the form of corporate greed.

Akhtar has cracked the tone of young relationships by capturing the friction and fondness that the Archies gang has for each other. Emotions are high, but so are loyalty and affection. When Veronica and Betty discover that Archie has been two-timing them, they refuse to be pushovers and choose each other and their friendship over him. However, despite realizing how he has been gaslighting them, they continue to be friends with him. What does all of this say about Akhtar's film's gender politics? Maybe sometimes all you need to make an entertaining song and dance number is to let an ever-hungry teenager stare at a team of rollerskating babes—in high-waisted shorts, polka dot blouses, and red bowties—as they gang up on him in a (very) mildly suggesting way.

Musical numbers with the same look, design, and pace as song lyrics about the battle of the sexes, with representative lyrics like, "Don't you know that he's just a flirt with a smile like a dessert made for you," and its matching clapback, "Don't you know that the flick in her eye is to trick every guy in her queue?"It would have been exciting to hear Archie's band, from which the film takes its name, attempt to play something influenced by Bollywood pop standards. There's also something to be said for anglicized songs with English hooks like, "You say I'm young and I've got nowhere to be/I say there's so much I can do." That line is also noteworthy because it, like much of "The Archies," encourages viewers to not only embrace but also cherish simple pleasures.

As the story progressed, it became clear that The Archies was an oddball, a film with moments of brilliance but lacking the sassy and vibrant energy one might expect from a Zoya Akhtar production. Though sentimental and idealistic, the storytelling lacked the depth and complex character exploration that could have elevated it above a simple trip down memory lane. Despite its attempt to pay homage to a bygone era of socialist idealism, the film falls short of fully immersing the audience in the world of 'Archie comics. The meticulous design and picturesque scenes seemed overly polished and lacked the rough edges and spontaneity that could have added originality to the story. It failed to capture the essence of the comics, leaving the audience yearning for a more personal connection to the source material.

Akhtar has a unique style and filmmaking signature, piercing the layers of concealer and designer clothes to tell stories of genuine depth. Whether she's delving into broken marriages, existential crises, or personal matters, she expertly renders all that is otherwise glitzy authentic. This audacity is lacking in The Archies. Akhtar has created an aesthetically pleasing world in which villains pose no threats and problems can be fixed with a hug, a slice of cake, or a playful apology, revolving around a group of Anglo-Indian adolescents.

I had high expectations for this film. I expected a story that would connect with audiences, a welcome change from the typical subjects of violence, masculinity, and gore that define today's movies. The film, on the other hand, lacks substance and nostalgia. As viewers, there isn't much to cry about, worry about, or wonder about. The production also fell short, not because of its superficiality or niche appeal, but because it is missing Zoya Akhtar's unapologetic exuberance. Akhtar's brilliance lies in her ability to deliver unapologetic fun, but The Archies delivers only hollow rewards disguised as substance. archies review nepotism archies review nepotism archies review nepotism


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