Anek review: Anubhav Sinha’s latest political-social drama, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, falls short of the high standards set by Thappad, Mulk, and Article 15.
Choosing controversial yet relevant subjects that require dialogue and then basing a film on them may appear to be a good bet, but it doesn’t always work out. That is exactly what happened with Anek, Ayushmann Khurrana’s latest film. Anek is directed and written by Anubhav Sinha, who worked with Ayushmann Khurrana again after the critically acclaimed Article 15 (which was based on caste discrimination in India). More so because Sinha’s previous three directorial projects — Mulk, Thappad, and Article 15 — all struck the right note and successfully started a conversation, but with Anek, he simply couldn’t create an immersive experience that leaves you thinking long after you leave the theatre. Anek’s intentions are all over the place, with a pretty confusing storyline, to begin with, followed by a narrative that appears convoluted in most places. Sinha tries to cover a lot of ground in two hours and thirty minutes, but he can’t do it all justice.
Anek takes place in North East India and is about an undercover agent named Joshua (Khurrana) who is sent to fix the political situation in the Northeastern part of India and bring peace back to the area. As he completes his mission, he meets Aido (Andrea Kevichüsa, a newcomer to the Indian national team) who is struggling with prejudice while pursuing her dream of becoming a boxer for India. Khurrana also has an interesting relationship with Aido’s father, Wangnao (Mipham Otsal), a schoolteacher who secretly supports a rebel group against government forces.
While Sinha has picked up the right nuances in casting actors from the North East, authentic locations, dialogues, and the severity of the conflict that he wants to highlight, he fails to weave them together into a compelling story that will keep you hooked. The first half of the film is spent developing a premise that never really gets anywhere. The film appears to be a bit stretched in the first half, with more time spent on character development than showing the actual tension that people in the North-East face daily.
That said, Anek is a patriot, and thankfully, it never takes the form of jingoism, which is common in Hindi films. The way Sinha has attempted to depict the racial abuse that people from the North-East face daily, their struggle to prove that they are as much a part of India, are great elements and do work in places. Furthermore, this is one of the few commercial films that has attempted to focus on the troubling situation in the North East, which many talk about but no one dares to delve deeply into. I think Anek is an extremely important and relevant film in today’s world, following films like The Kashmir Files. I only wish the execution was a little simpler, with a more focused screenplay co-written by Sinha, Sima Agarwal, and Yash Keswani.
Even when his loyalty is called into question, we see Ayushmann carry out his mission with sincerity and zeal. He is gritty as a cop, confident in his role, and softer in scenes of helplessness. He skillfully shoulders the film, to put it mildly.
Kevichüsa, who makes her Bollywood debut with Anek, gives a decent performance for the first time, but I felt her character could have been fleshed out much better with more to do than boxing in the ring. When she realizes what Joshua and her father are up to, she doesn’t do anything you’d expect in such a situation. Wangnao, on the other hand, has a strong character arc. He evokes emotions that you may be able to identify. Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa, among others, bring their experience to bear and deliver some memorable scenes.
To summarise, Anek has the right heart and is made with all the right intentions; it’s the execution that falls short, and it’s not a story that everyone will understand with equal empathy and interest.