In the last few years, we have seen Anubhav Sinha reinventing himself with issue-based films such as Mulk, Article 15, Thappad, etc. The reason why those films managed to get acclaim and acceptance was that they effectively served the purpose of telling a story and at the same time shedding light on an issue. The new Netflix release Axone directed by Nicholas Kharkongor is actually an attempt to make such an issue-based film about the lives of the people from the northeast. Even though it effectively communicates about the discrimination the people from that part of India faces, there is this lack of nuanced storytelling which makes it a movie that is too focused and conscious about its politics.
So the movie is basically a one day story. Upsana and Chanbi are trying to prepare a traditional dish named Akhuni (Axone) as they were planning to celebrate the wedding of their friend Minam. But the smell of that dish isn’t that great because of certain ingredients and convincing the neighbors becomes a task for them. Axone ultimately shows us the discrimination these people face from society for following their tradition.
The movie is set in Delhi and being the national capital it feels like the best location to place the story as the theme has a pan Indian appeal. The script has this feel of a comedy where a group of friends is trying to secretly have a celebration without letting the landlord know about it. If you look at the trailer also, you will find that theme. What director Nicholas has done here is adding different layers of problems faced by North East people into this basic plot. Chanbi reacts to a man who made vulgar comments about her and when she reacts to the comment he made even her boyfriend is not defending her. But there is a reason why her boyfriend didn’t react to it. Nicholas adds these layers to show us the way they are treated as outsiders in their own country.
There is an attempt to make it a movie that is close to the emotions of the characters as well. In my opinion, where the movie fumbled was when they were trying to mix both narratives. We can see a personal dynamic between Zorem and Upsana and there is tension in the relationship between Chanbi and Bendang. This personal angle of the story and the anti-discrimination politics of the movie is not getting blended smoothly. It is mostly our willingness to listen to the politics of the movie that is making us root for the movie rather than the story. The visuals showed the urban Delhi and its suffocation impressively.
Lin Laishram as Chambi is the most aggressive character here and she portrays the anger and frustration of that character nicely. Sayani Gupta plays the role of the naïve friend from Nepal named Upsana. Lanuakum Ao is Bendang and his depiction of that depressed character was impressive. Tenzin Delha is Upsana’s supportive boyfriend Zorem. There are many famous names like Vinay Pathak, Dolly Ahluwalia, and Adil Hussain (playing an onlooker with zero dialogues and a total runtime of 1 minute) here. Pathak and Ahluwalia were memorable in their characters along with Rohan Joshi as Shiv aka Hyper.
The idea here is not to be preachy about the rights of the people from the northeast as they are trying to make it look like a film about a group of friends trying to make a dish in a setup that restricts them from doing that. But the screenplay is not that smooth when it comes to blending the politics into this one day drama and thus Axone becomes a movie that makes you more aware of a political situation rather than moving you emotionally.
It is mostly our willingness to listen to the politics of the movie that is making us root for the movie rather than the story.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended