A character in the film points out that if you rub off the names, most Indians won’t be able to name the seven Northeastern states of our country on a map. And we agree with this sorry state of affairs. The North East is a much neglected region mired in political conflict. It has been given a short shrift by the establishment. Its denizens are racially abused in the rest of India. The alienation and a lack of opportunities have led to the youth taking up arms and demanding independence from India. As the film points out, numerous peace accords have been signed, but there’s no sign of real peace. The assimilation of the people of the North East into greater India and its overall development has been one of the talking points of Anek. Another is the idea of Indianness. We are still bound by regional affiliations and language barriers. It inhibits us from thinking of ourselves as Indians first. What’s the formula for turning us into Indians?—the film asks the philosophical question. Another question it asks is why people from the marginalized layer have to prove their Indianness. Why can’t the majority accept them as citizens just like them?
Anek is a hugely political film. It shows how violence by state agencies leads to the radicalisation of the youth. A Kashmiri Muslim is shown to be the government’s fixer for the region. The irony indeed. And when this character says that the voices of the people from everywhere should be heard, the satire deepens. The film also showcases a surgical strike across the border in Myanmar. A character says that not only will we do a surgical strike, we’ll also make a film about it. That’s a solid burn towards Uri alright.
The story of the film revolves around secret agent Aman (Ayuhmann Khurrana), who goes by the name of Joshua. He opens a cafe in a city somewhere in the North East and sets it up as his base of operations. He has been sent by the government to neutralize Tiger Sanga (Loitongbam Dorendra Singh), a militant leader who runs a parallel government in the region. The government wants him to fall in line and sign a peace accord. Along the way, he meets boxer Aido (Andrea Kevichusa) and her father, teacher Wangnao (Mipham Otsal). Aido wants to become a part of India’s boxing team as she thinks recognition in sports would give her a platform to highlight the problems of her region on a national and international scale. Wangnao is a revolutionary who believes in becoming self-sufficient. He feels independence isn’t necessarily earned through guns but can be won through social reforms as well. Coming in touch with them changes him. He begins to question the motives of his handler, Abrar (Manoj Pahwa), Delhi’s fixer for the North East, and that of the wily minister (Kumud Mishra), who oversees their operations. He vows to work towards real peace and not just flimsy solutions and that puts him in the bad books of his own secret agency.
The film has been imaginatively shot by Ewan Mulligan. The North East is a beautiful region and more filmmakers should go and explore the place. While the political message packs a punch, its power is somewhat diminished by the execution and the writing, which is rusty in places. Also, you feel that you’re listening to political ideology rather than actual conversations. After a while, it does get heavy-handed and verbose. But Anubhav Sinha has dared to say and show certain harsh truths about the region. His courage can’t be denied. The film’s heart beats with love for the region, and that’s its biggest strength. It’s saying in large bold letters that we should celebrate our diversity while being united, and we certainly need to hear that more in today’s times.
Ayushmann Khurrana is at his sincere best as an undercover agent who develops a conscience. He underscores his versatility once more through his rock solid performance. He has stamped his authority yet again as a dependable performer. Manoj Pahwa gives him able company, playing the minder who has sold his soul with ruthless efficiency. Their scenes together add a layer to the film. JD Chakravarthy also makes his presence felt as another field agent sent to keep an eye on Aman. Newbie Andrea Kevichusa has a charming screen presence and remains true to the requirements of her role. Let’s hope she gets more mainstream Hindi films in the future. Mipham Otsal and Loitongbam Dorendra Singh look so real, it doesn’t feel like they’re acting. An inspired piece of casting indeed.
Watch the movie for all the ugly truths it explores and for the inspired acting of the ensemble cast.
TNN, May 27, 2022, 12:30 PM IST
STORY: Joshua, a covert operative, is tasked to create a situation that will force rebel leader Tiger Sangha to the negotiation table for a peace treaty which has been in limbo for years. Will Joshua succeed in his mission and will peace really prevail?
REVIEW: Anubhav Sinha’s Anek is a layered narrative about efforts to negotiate a peace treaty in the northeast with a separatist group, a process that has gone on for decades without a conclusion. A covert operative, Aman (Ayushmann Khurrana), who goes by the alias Joshua, is tasked with creating a situation that brings Tiger Sangha (Loitongbam Dorendra), the top rebel leader of the region, to the negotiation table. Along the way, Aman finds that everything isn’t as black and white as he had initially thought and finds himself conflicted, emotionally and professionally.
With conversational dialogues interspersed throughout the narrative, Anek brings you face to face with the undercurrents of discrimination and alienation from ‘mainland’ India that exist in different pockets of the northeast. At times uncomfortably so, but then that is the intent of the narration. Sinha doesn’t use heavy-duty, seetimaar lines or overt jingoism. What works here is subtlety in the dialogues and performances, and some nuanced writing that brings out the essence of the gray that Sinha set out to depict through the film.
Anek, through its runtime, draws subtle parallels between the northeast and other parts of the country, in particular Jammu and Kashmir. For instance, Manoj Pahwa’s character, Abrar Butt, Aman’s superior and a Kashmiri himself, looks out of an airplane’s window while on a flight to the northeast. Taking in the breathtaking view, he says, “Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast– Khusro’s well-known line that describes the picturesque beauty of Kashmir. Through the window of that plane, the director offers you a glimpse of the outer beauty and inner turmoil of both regions.
The film is engaging, but it could have done with a tighter screen time. It’s a tad slow pre-interval and comparatively fast-paced post that, and unpacks a lot in that timespan.
With some powerful performances by Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Andrea Kevichüsa, Kumud Mishra, Loitongbam Dorendra, and JD Chakraverti, the film leaves the audience with plenty of unsettling questions – primarily, what makes you an Indian. The use of silences, regional dialect, folk songs and the background score, the production design, the visual tone, cinematography and action pieces, lend themselves well to the narrative. Anubhav Sinha continues his run as a conscience-keeper of sorts, making one film after another – Mulk, Article 15, Tappad – that forces you to think about equality and justice in the context of religion, caste, gender, and now region.
PS: Can you identify all the states of the northeast on a map if the names were removed?