Anek Review: Raw, but Ultimately Rewarding to Watch

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Anek Review: Raw, but Ultimately Rewarding to Watch

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Anubhav Sinha’s Anek tries to represent many things; the voice of the people of northeast India (NE), the massive disparity between the vision for the northeast versus the rest of the nation, the crude political gambles between leaders of the northeast and those ruling the centre, and the overall discrimination the people of NE face for how they look and eat. The film is less of a mouthpiece, and more of an eye-opener to the socio-political conflicts that often cloud the dreams of those living within the seven sisters of India. For example, one of the film’s protagonists, a young, upcoming boxing prodigy Aido (Andrea Kevichüsa) has to fight a Haryanvi champion to prove herself worthy of representing India. Her father Wangnao (Mipham Otsal) on the other hand is part a separatist group and wants an autonomous identity for NE, separate from India. Between father and daughter Aman (Ayushmann Khurrana) holds the middle ground as a self-proclaimed peace negotiator.

This is the first time we have a film that attempts to capture the many anxieties of an underrepresented region.

These are conflicts so far removed from mainstream media coverage whether it’s the news or cinema. Bollywood has often over-utilised the Kashmir conflict, and the Indo-Pak rivalry for drama. But this is the first time we have a film that attempts to capture the many anxieties of an underrepresented region. Anek mirrors the brutal violence and criminal negligence that the inhabitants of NE have to grow up with. The film opens as Aido is being arrested by cops in Delhi for being suspected as a prostitute from Thailand. In reality she’s a state champion from an unnamed state in NE with a burning desire to put India on the global boxing map. She’s close to Aman, an undercover cop on the hunt for her father. There is also Emma, who is trying to prevent her young son Niko from joining the rebels. Each of these threads run parallel and come together at a point where they must confront the idea of being recognised as Indian.

Performances are top class and to the mark and the casting is spot on.

Ever since Mulk in 2018, Anubhav Sinha has been making films that serve a strong social or political message. Sometimes this can also work against you. Anek can often feel tediously informative as opposed to just letting the plot do its bit. A barrage of information, colliding motives, criss-crossing motivations and more can make the film feel heavy, even confusing if you happen to blink over a small chunk. Sinha’s research shows but eventually the film feels too meaty to also be fluid and seamless.

The cinematography by Ewan Mulligan & Dhananjay Navagrah is exquisite and tears through the landscape of NE, adequately representing it as a character in its own right. The war between the rebels and the NE army is often captured with such meticulousness that you’re forced to question the motivation behind such gruesome violence. At multiple points in the film, frames are curated to highlight the structure of the NE within the Indian map, almost to highlight why it’s treated as separate from the state of India. Editing by Yasha Ramchandani is taut and doesn’t miss a beat, and the haunting score by Anurag Saikya supports the edit like a charm.

Anek isn’t your regular entertaining fare, but it’s a film that needed to be made.

Performances are top class and to the mark and the casting is spot on. Ayushmann Khurrana though for once, doesn’t look the part in a role that could have been casted differently. But he’s part of an ensemble and in the overall scheme of performances he blends in. Sheila Devi who plays Emma is a real find and so is Andrea Kevichüsa. Lanuakum ao, who plays the main militant, shines after his much acclaimed performances in films like Axone, and you only hope for more parts to be written for these fine actors. It’s humbling really that it has taken so long for actors from the NE to truly find their footing in the industry. Anek isn’t your regular entertaining fare, but it’s a film that needed to be made. It forces you to ask many questions. What is our idea of peace and identity? Are we really the democracy we claim to be? Are we truly united in the face of diversity? Will the people of NE ever truly feel Indian and rise from the status of being a minority? and many more. Anek is an imperfect trigger, but let’s hope it sets off many others.

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