Picking subjects that are controversial yet relevant and need a dialogue, and then basing a film on it may seem to be a good bet, but it doesn’t always land how you’d expect. That’s exactly what has happened with Ayushmann Khurrana’s latest outing, Anek. Directed and written by Anubhav Sinha, who collaborated with Khurrana again after the acclaimed Article 15 (which was based on caste discrimination in India), Anek falters at several places. More so because, Sinha’s last three directorial projects — Mulk, Thappad and Article 15 — have all hit the right chord and successfully started a conversation, but with Anek, he just couldn’t create an immersive experience that gets you thinking once you leave the theatres. With a storyline that’s pretty confusing to begin with, followed by a narrative that appears convoluted at most places, Anek’s intentions are indeed all over the place. Sinha somehow tries to address many issues in 2-hour-30-minutes runtime, but sadly couldn’t do justice to all. Also read: Anek’s Andrea Kevichusa says a woman once asked her ‘when are you going back to your country?’
Set against the backdrop of North East India, Anek focuses on an undercover agent Joshua (Khurrana) who is on a mission to restore peace in the Northeastern region of India and the political situation that has for long plagued this belt of the country. During his task, he meets Aido, a Northeastern Indian boxer (newcomer Andrea Kevichüsa) who is struggling with biases while chasing her dream to secure a position on the Indian national team. Khurrana also has an interesting tryst with Aido’s father, Wangnao (Mipham Otsal), a school teacher who is secretly nurturing a rebel group against government forces.
While Sinha has picked up the right nuances when it comes to casting actors from the North East, authentic locations, dialogues, the severity of the conflict that he wants to highlight, he fails to weave them together into a compelling story that would keep you hooked. The entire first half of the film is spent on building up a premise that never really reaches a destination. The films looks a bit stretched in the first half with more time spent on character building than showing the actual tension that people in North East go through every day of their lives.
That being said, Anek is high on patriotism and thankfully that never takes the form of jingoism that’s quite common in Hindi films. The way Sinha has tried to show racial abuse that people from the North East deal with on a daily basis, their ordeal to prove that they’re as much a part of India, are great elements and do work in places. Also, you can’t disregard that this is one of the very few commercial films that has attempted to put focus on the worrisome situation in the North East, which many talk about but nobody really shows the courage to delve deep into. After films like The Kashmir Files, you can say that Anek is definitely a very important film and quite relevant in today’s times. I only wish that the execution was a bit simpler with a more focused screenplay that Sinha has co-written with Sima Agarwal and Yash Keswani.
We see Khurrana undertake his mission with all sincerity and diligence even when his loyalty is questioned. He is gritty as a cop, carries his role with confidence and is softer in scenes of helpless situations. It won’t be wrong to say that he skillfully shoulders the film.
Kevichüsa, who has made her Bollywood debut with Anek, delivers a decent performance for a first time though I did feel her character could have been fleshed out in a much better way with more to do than just boxing in the ring. Upon realizing what Joshua and her father are up to, she doesn’t really do anything that you would ideally expect in such a situation. Wangnao’s character arc, on the other hand, is quite strong. He evokes an emotion that you could connect with. Among other supporting cast members, Kumud Mishra and Manoj Pahwa bring their experience to good use and deliver some great scenes.
To sum up, Anek has its heart at the right place and is made with all the right intensions, it’s the execution that’s a bit disappointing and it’s not a story that everyone would understand with equal amount of empathy and interest.
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, J.D. Chakravarthy, Andrea Kevichüsa, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra
Director: Anubhav Sinha