In search of inclusivity

Nonika Singh

Maverick and acclaimed director Anubhav Sinha, who has given us a clutch of meaningful films (Mulk, Thappad, Article 15), once again moves onto a new turf and once again explores the idea of the other Indian, those who have to prove their Indianness. Very relevant in the times that we are living in and even more so pertinent since he has turned his cinematic lens on the oft-ignored and barely understood region of North East.

As the narrative begins with racist slurs, with a boxing head in Delhi masquerading aspersions with a qualifier, “it’s a joke”, the director comes to the point soon enough. Sinha reunites with his Article 15 star Ayushmann Khurrana, who plays an undercover officer deputed in North-East. As he says “Mein bandook se baat karne aaya tha,” that is neutralise rebels…In the thick of it, he begins to listen to their stories. He empathises with a whole lot of them and their family members, especially this young boxer Aida (Andrea Kevichüsa), who wants to represent India to be able to talk to India one to one. And here full marks to Sinha for choosing a Naga model Andrea Kevichüsa, who looks refreshingly lovely; even if it is not a stellar part, she nails it.

Like Article 15, Ayushmann’s Joshua is an outsider (like us) and makes us see things including the armed conflict the way we ought to. Though the role, as the talented actor himself would say, “is away from his statement genre,”  he does not disappoint and holds the film with restrained acting, and some meaningful lines.

Unlike many of Sinha’s previous outings, the writer-director stays away from melodrama. Sure, there are some pedantic dialogues like, “one man’s peace is other’s chaos and peace is a subjective thesis.” But the idea is to make us understand the politics behind peace, nay peace accords. For what does the establishment really want as Ayushmann’s character enquires – peace or peace accords?

Most directors wear their heart on their sleeve, but Sinha wears his ideology too and in the process throws in a volley of significant queries. At the surface level, the title song Anek mein hoon ek mein (written by Shakeel Azmi and music by Anurag Saikia) sums up what he cares to drive home. As do his thoughtful assertions on why people’s voice should matter only once in five years.

But as he spreads this actioner like a political thriller, he spreads it thin. One often gets lost in the maze which foregrounds rebels, government created insurgents and genuine people’s voices. While it’s alright to keep the intrigue factor alive, often we are more confused than captivated, till the finale lays it out for us. Besides, placing a Kashmiri Muslim (Manoj Pahwa) at the centre of government machinery which deals with counter insurgency too sends confused signals. Manoj Pahwa as the man who believes he is not in the business of trust is excellent though. Then there is an unfair and unwanted dig at fellow filmmaker, with politico (Kumud Mishra) reminding us how politics drives certain films, “surgical strike pe film bhi banwa denge.” Of course, a film on North-East is a rarity. And on that count, Sinha deserves kudos.

The final message that we need to celebrate all Indians, yes most certainly those from the North-East too, not just those who bring us sporting glory, is certainly worth celebrating. Though one wishes the film, otherwise shot like an international feature (Ewan Mulligan is the cinematographer), had been a more captivating fare, it deserves to be watched.     

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