Film Review: Anek fails miserably in its storytelling and character renditions
  • Release Date: 27/05/2022
  • Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Andrea Kevichusa, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra
  • Director: Anubhav Sinha

My review of Anek will be a spoiler-filled one and it will be from the perspective of someone who was lucky enough to have been born in the majestic state of Assam and had the good fortune to travel to the farthest corners of the North East. My understanding and familiarity with the region and its diverse culture, topography, people, and religion made me see flaws in the film that might be invisible to someone who doesn’t have any idea of the region. It is in this fact that my biggest issues with the film lie and I will try to come to these points through the course of this review.

Aman AKA Joshua (Ayushmann Khurrana) runs a café in an unnamed part of Northeast India. He is a government operative working for India to help disarm and bring to the negotiation table a dreaded terrorist named Tiger Sanga (Loitongbam Dorendra). Sanga and his organization are evidently inspired by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the leader of one of its factions, Isak Muivah. Aman is on the brink of completing his mission when a rival faction of tiger Sanga that Aman had created to maintain a balance of power breaks out of his control and threatens to destroy the government’s plan for a peace accord. Aman is pressurized by his bosses to disarm this faction known only as “Johnson” but to do that Aman has to go against his gut feelings and humanity. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative of Anek.

A superficial understanding of the subject matter

It is apparent from how Anubhav Sinha approaches the story that he has very little understanding of the genesis of terrorism that plagued the Northeastern states but for very different reasons. Every Northeastern state had a different reason contributing to the surge of terrorism and no two states had similar reasons. True, some of the terrorist organization’s interests might have overlapped and they might have come in contact with each other but they never shared in each other’s cause. Thus when Anubhav Sinha generalizes the insurgency of the Northeast and presents it as a mishmash borrowing elements and topography from different northeastern states, it feels extremely odd and outlandish for someone like me who has traveled to these places and knows the various dissimilarities between the cultures and the people. Anyone who has even the faintest idea of life in the different northeastern states will immediately realize the discrepancies in the storytelling and it will hurt the realism, believability, and the authenticity of the film. For a film of this nature, that is a huge drawback.

Unnecessarily heightened depiction of discrimination

The film begins by introducing us to Aido (Andrea Kevichusa), a national-level boxer enjoying a birthday party at a local pub. She is picked up with some other girls (whose faces we never see) and is thrashed in the middle of a road by the local police. The police also hurl racial abuses at her for no rhyme or reason. Anyone who has lived in Delhi, and seen the pub scene and the modas oparandi of the police will know that this is a gross exaggeration of the entire episode and it has been put in the film for no other reason but to fuel the director’s personal vendetta and one-dimensional look at a problem that does exist but is not as over the top as depicted. Racial abuse is real and prevalent and by not depicting it in the right way, Anubhav Sinha has done a major disservice to the very cause that he was trying to serve.

The treatment that Aido receives at the sports academy where she has to challenge a fellow boxer to a face-off in order to get selected for a national event was just as outrageous and stupefying. The coach is depicted as someone who is so foolishly villainous that not even the most forgiving of viewers will be able to accept him for what he is shown doing. By doing this the director not only belittles the immense contribution of the northeast states to the sports map of India but also makes a mockery of the struggle and sacrifices that many of these sportsmen and women had to go through to bring laurels to the country and their respective states.

A protagonist that sticks out like a sore thumb in the narrative

My friend with whom I was watching the film was in awe of Ayushmann Khurrana and his loveable ways. She made it a point to remind me more than once how loveable Ayushmann was and also that he may be playing a commando but he will always resemble a love-struck diehard romantic. With her astute observation, a thought that was spiraling in my mind about what was wrong with the picture of Ayushmann playing a Special Forces operative was given shape. Yes! She was right. The man was sticking out like a sore thumb among the other people in the film. If he was sent on a covert mission he would fail miserably. He does things with so little brain and is so blatant and gun-ho about everything that he wouldn’t even last a day if he was put in the most forgiving of terror-affected areas with a mission. A lot of research and understanding was required to make his character believable and apparently, the director had no time for that. Ayushmann plays himself with conviction but that should never have been the idea here.

Chaotic screenplay and storytelling techniques

I was constantly put off by the chaotic screenplay and “tell not show” manner of storytelling. The film has copious amounts of narration by the character of Aman and then suddenly out of nowhere there is a brief portion wherein Aido takes over the narration but never gets another chance at it. This feels jarring. There is a training montage in the film too that is complemented by such a weak and uninspiring background score that it left no impact on me whatsoever. If that was not enough, Anubhav Sinha does the cardinal error of showing the training montage in the first half and the resulting fight in the climax of the film. This creates such a massive gap between the two that the training montage feels farcical and oddly out of place in the scheme of things. We all know, that climactic battles are supposed to be preceded by training montages. That’s how our brains have been trained to process these bits and the director needed to respect this age-old manner of filmmaking.

Inability to convey the weight of the emotions to the audiences

I was constantly frustrated by the insensitive audience that I was watching the film with. They not only laughed at critically tragic junctures in the film but constantly missed the point that the narrative was driving at. This was especially true for the heightened emotions of the film resulting from moments were supporting characters were shown losing near and dear ones. I realized that it was not just the audience that missed the point but it was the director too who failed to put forward the emotions with the right amount of power when an important supporting actor is shot dead in the film and the audience reacted to it with a gasp. This proved that they were on the same page with this character as it had been developed through a series of dialogues and sequences previously. This also proved the point that the others were not and hence there was no connection with the audiences. Some of the characters are so caricaturish that they single handedly bring down the authenticity of the film.

Some positives amid overwhelming negatives

Having said all that, there were a few positives that proved that with some more time and effort in the writing, research, and character rendition, this film could have turned out to be much better. I loved the cinematography of it. Some of the sequences were particularly poignant like the one where we see a large number of terrorists of a particular faction being gunned down by an enemy that they cannot see. This sequence turned out to be haunting because of how it was shot and edited. The sound design in this sequence was also terrific as it was able to not only communicate the gravity of the situation but also wonderfully render the chaos of it all. The background score of the film was consistently brilliant. I loved the score that they used in the climactic battle. Some of the songs that they used to develop minor characters left some impact. I am not sure how authentic they were to the northeast but they served their purpose in the film.  

I really liked some of the casting choices. Andrea Kevichusa neither looks like a boxer nor acts like one but in every other scene where she is not boxing, she leaves a telling impact with her beautiful and expressive eyes and elevated mannerisms. She was able to nail the emotions of the character and was endlessly convincing. I am confident we will see a lot more of her in the future. I just hope that she is not typecast. Loitongbam Dorendra playing Tiger Sanga was by far the best and most convincing rendering of a Northeastern terrorist that comes to recent memories. He is not only effective but highly engrossing and every time he comes on screen he lights up the proceedings. I wished there was more of him. Manoj Pahwa and Kumud Mishra are effective in their respective parts.

Final Words

Anek needed a lot more research and a focused approach to one particular story to present a cohesive picture and make any impact. In its effort to be representative of all that was wrong in every northeast state, it ends up being not even a highlight of the problems of each of these states. The film messes up the entire story and liquidates serious issues and tragedies that have plagued the northeastern states since Independence. This is one of the first films that set out to tackle and portray issues of the northeast and by being so ineffective and caricaturish about it all, the director does a major disservice to the theme and story that he set out to capture. I just hope people don’t get their dose of Northeast history from this film.

Rating: 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)

Also read: Film Review: ‘Profile’ is a masterclass in manipulation

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