'Anek' Review: Thought-provoking thriller about equality and patriotism set in the Northeast

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

Murtaza Ali Khan

Anubhav Sinha’s transformation as a filmmaker has been quite remarkable. As someone who was mostly known for making commercial entertainers, he seems to have taken a major shift half a decade back when he started making socially and politically relevant films, starting with Mulk (2018), which follows the life of a Muslim family that tries to reclaim its lost honor after its patriarch is put on trial for involvement in terrorist activities. Sinha’s next offering, Article 15 (2019), revolves around the Article 15 of the Indian constitution which prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, race, gender, or place of birth. The film takes inspiration from true life events, including 2014 Badaun gang rape allegations and 2016 Una flogging incident. Sinha subsequently made another important film, Thappad (2020), which tells the story of a woman’s courage as she takes on the society after she decides to leave her husband for slapping her in a party. And now he is back with ‘Anek’—a socio-political thriller set against the geopolitical backdrop of Northeast India.

‘Anek’ stars Ayushmann Khurrana in the lead role of an undercover agent, Aman (can there be a more apt name for the story’s hero?) aka Joshua, who is on a mission to restore peace in the Northeastern region of India by wiping out the separatist elements. The film follows Aman's journey in the conflict-ridden region of northeast where he tries to get a peace accord signed with the head of the largest militant group—Tiger Sangha. Joshua tries to infiltrate a separatist group by befriending Aido (essayed by debutante Andrea Kevichüsa), who is the daughter of one of its members. A talented boxer, Aido is constantly subjected to racism but she is determined to represent India and bring a gold medal for the country, thereby hoping to be fully accepted as an Indian. Aman’s mission and Aido’s dream eventually take a collision course. Will both of them find their own paths? Or will they trigger mayhem for one another? Anek poses an all important question. What it takes to be an Indian above all the divide that the country faces? The film also stars Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, and J.D. Chakravarthy in pivotal roles.

It is really a pity that over the years not many filmmakers have managed to do justice to the beguiling beauty of Northeast India through their camera lens. One of the major reasons for this inaccessibility is the region’s remoteness from mainland India—connected to the Northeast by just a narrow stretch of land of about 22 kilometers called the Siliguri Corridor, also known as the ‘Chicken's Neck’. Connectivity by road has many limitations and it’s also the reason why the region has remained isolated for so long.

In the past some Bollywood films, including ‘Mary Kom,’ have been criticized for overlooking the local talent when it comes to casting actors for major parts. But, ‘Anek’ has set the record straight by casting the local talent in the pivotal roles such as Andrea Kevichüsa in the lead role of Aido. Other than the film’s realistic approach, superb casting, and meticulous setting another unique aspect of the film is its choice of music and songs.

The chemistry between Ayushmann Khurrana and Andrea Kevichüsa is not only refreshing but also very natural. The two look great together and it feels that they were always meant to share the screen space. Also, it’s wonderful to see J.D. Chakravarthy in a major Hindi film after such a long time. While the acting performances on offer are all very good, the one performance that stands out for me is that of Manoj Pahwa whose character Abrar Bhat seems inspired by NSA Ajit Doval. But then it’s not really a surprise given all the wonderful performances Pahwa has delivered in a bunch of Anubhav Sinha films: be it Tum Bin (2001), Mulk (2018), or Article 15 (2019). Labeled a ‘comedian’ at one point in his career, Pahwa today has a myriad of versatile performances to show for in his diverse body of work. And his complex portrayal of Abrar Bhat is right up there with his best work.  

‘Anek’ is a thought-provoking thriller about equality and patriotism set in the Northeast. One hopes that a film like ‘Anek’ will succeed in creating greater awareness about the region as well as the issues affecting it. After a long lull, Bollywood is finally witnessing packed shows, all thanks to Anees Bazmee and ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’. So it would really be interesting to see if Bollywood can keep this momentum going with this week’s release with ‘Anek’.  

A version of this review was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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