The Archies review: Zoya Akhtar gets it right once again | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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The Archies review: Suhana Khan leads an impressive star cast in Zoya Akhtar's delectable musical

Dec 07, 2023 01:34 PM IST

The Archies review: Zoya Akhtar adds another great feature to her cap, this time the Hindi-English film adaptation of the beloved Archies comics.

Zoya Akhtar hardly gets it wrong. She’s Bollywood’s lady cool, a laid-back, artistic enfant terrible whose next project’s subject always is anyone’s guess. So, when the Gully Boy (2019) filmmaker decided to take on a comic book series that we can all agree to call long outmoded, for her new film, it makes for a subversively delicious proposition.

The screen adaptation of The Archies comics is set to premiere on Netflix from Thursday,
The screen adaptation of The Archies comics is set to premiere on Netflix from Thursday,

The Archies opens with the protagonist taking a group of tourists around Green Park, the beloved sprawling green lung of Riverdale, which is refashioned as a pretty hill station somewhere in India with quaint bookshops run by Shakespeare-quoting Parsi gentlemen and cosy salons with kind aunties at the helm. The central conflict is ‘public interest versus corporate interest’, as Dilton Doiley (Yuvraj Menda) declares in the classroom. Veronica’s (Suhana Khan) obscenely wealthy parents are back from London and want to tear the town down for their own interests. The teenagers are about to get wind of the devious capitalist plan and embark on a campaign to protect Green Park and Riverdale’s old ways. But before that, it indulges in the quintessential Archie’s tropes — the love triangle is preserved, as are Jughead’s awkward, gluttonous ways, Reggie’s irresistible vanity and Veronica’s foxy charm.

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The winning concoction

The narrative sticks to the original names, eschewing the occasional tradition of adapting it into Hindi. Akhtar, who has spoken at length about her fondness and nostalgia for the comics, absorbs the naïvete of its world with a wilful self-awareness, proclaiming — nay, crooning — to the world that she is taking a break from the gritty worlds and stark realism of her previous features. Unlike the dark reimagining of Riverdale, The Archies is set in the 1960s in a near-fantastic idyll, with the innocence and romance of the setting that readers have loved the comics for. Nikos Andritsakis’ (Ugly, 2013; Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, 2015) cinematography and pretty frames are in sync with Akhtar’s whimsical vision for this film. After an underwhelming outing in Sam Bahadur, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are back in form, complemented by Ankur Tewari and Aditi Dot Saigal (she also plays Ethel Muggs), and together, they vindicate the director’s choice of form — the musical.

Akhtar deserves credit for marrying worlds that might at the outset seem entirely divergent, for which both the film’s screenplay and dialogue reserve credit. So, alongside struggling with his identical feelings for Betty and Veronica, Archie feels strongly about Riverdale’s cause. In the context of this film, this cause is a timely message about the need to preserve institutions, Nature and innocence itself, and it is delivered without the smallest trace of preachiness. The screenplay uses the genre’s musical pauses to its advantage, delivering characters resolutions to their inner conflicts and establishing equations in effortless cinematic flourishes.

The kids are alright

It’s okay if you head into The Archies with a slight bit of a bias against some of the cast and their star-kid status. It’s a relief to see that this is a talented bunch that has been trained well for the artistic grind. Agastya Nanda puts in earnest work to make this Archie seem less unfeeling, but he is overshadowed by Vedang Raina (Reggie), who has a Ranveer Singh energy about him. Khushi Kapoor as Betty doesn’t feel overawed at all in her acting debut where she has to compete with the prima donna Veronica. Suhana Khan essays the latter with a careful balance of over-the-top and rich-kid confidence, at times even betraying the flair of her real-life father, Shah Rukh Khan.

The Archies is now streaming on Netflix.

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