Anek Is A Failure Of Both The Creator And The Audience

The film is cluttered and lacks an emotional core
Anek Is A Failure Of Both The Creator And The Audience

Anubhav Sinha's style of filmmaking has been to invest his audience in a narrative, and through the narrative subtly highlight conflicts that make us check our privilege every few minutes. In Mulk, it was everyday islamophobia, in Article 15, everyday casteism and in Thappad, everyday sexism.

With Anek, however, the narrative is itself the conflict, and there is no room for subtlety. Set in the North East (we are never told which state, even the vehicle plates read NE), Anek follows Joshua (Ayushmann Khurrana), an undercover agent for the Indian Government attempting to broker peace in the region. Thrown into the mix are Tiger Sanga (Loitongbam Dorendra), a separatist leader ready to negotiate with Delhi, Aido (Andrea Kevichusa), a boxer fighting for a country that is yet to hear the voice of her people, and her father Wangnao (Mipham Otsal), a school teacher part of an insurgent group. Things go awry when a new group 'Johnson' rears its head, fighting both Sanga and the Indian Government in an effort to stop the signing of the peace deal.

Anek situates itself in chaos. Gunfights are frequent, the camerawork is unsteady and the characters all seem to be sitting on ticking time bombs, often literally. The film cuts frequently between the loud, dirty, bloody reality of the region and the plush, soft-lit rooms negotiating its "peace". Sinha has some important points to make — how governments often confuse control for peace, how conflict may be the eternal order of things and how peace may just be a 'subjective hypothesis'. These ideas, however, are conveyed to us in mini-sermons as opposed to organic scenes.

Throwing out the "show, don't tell" principle, Sinha takes to a more Agnihotri-style of filmmaking. As the characters discuss matters across dinner tables, the audience is spoon-fed their ideas through clunky dialogue. There is an attempt to emulate the iconic discussion-over-tea scene from Article 15, this time with Joshua wondering what it means to be "just Indian", discarding the tags of North, South, East and West. The scene comes at such a random point in the screenplay, however, that it barely lands.

Sinha's previous films worked because at their crux there was an emotional core. While in Article 15, the journey of the protagonist Ayan Ranjan is the journey of the audience, in Mulk and Thappad each character had a personality and an arc we could empathise with. With Anek, we do not know any of the characters better at the end of the film than we did at the beginning. Ayushmann's Joshua remains a mystery, the boxer Aido is relegated to the sidelines and most of the supporting cast are either caricaturish politicians with stone hearts or locals who almost always carry guns and barely have any individual personalities or aspirations.

Anek starts off with the diagnosis that the issue in the North East is suppression of diversity, but never comes around to celebrating this diversity. Save for one song, there is little to show about the culture, language or lifestyle of the people. How could there be, when the film chooses to bucket North East's tremendous diversity into one region, one problem, one insurgency and one peace accord.

We never truly meet the "people" Johnson represents or grasp any meaningful understanding of their everyday struggles. Joshua's change of heart as a government official who begins to sympathise with the voice of the insurgents is too sudden and brittle to convince, verbose voiceovers notwithstanding.

Anek is cluttered with unfeeling action-set pieces and equally cold political discussions. With many twists and turns through narrow gullies, the film reaches a hare-brained climax of a "surgical strike" which serves only to project Sinha's political sensibilities, which have little to do with the North East. If there was a tonality the director was going for, it never reaches the audience. What does, is a complicated plot that is neither true enough to history to educate oneself nor engaging enough to invest in as a standalone story.

Ultimately, however, Anek isn't just a failure of its creator to communicate coherently. It is also our failure as an audience, who simply do not know enough about this part of our own country to be able to intelligently critique the issues Anek attempts to portray.

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