Axone, streaming on Netflix, is a lovely, well-made film on food and the politics surrounding it. The beautiful, thought-provoking film hasn't got its due acclaim or the popularity it deserves. The film is about a bunch of youngsters from various North-East Indian states, trying to cook a traditional favourite dish, axone – a highly pungent-smelling fermented dish – on the occasion of a friend's wedding. That this happens in the heart of a neighbourhood in Delhi, which is actually the citadel of regional bias and discrimination, is what makes the event even more sensational.
A group of North-East students living in rented flats in Delhi want to prepare axone (pronounced akhuni) in honour of their friend on her wedding day. The dish, made with smoked pork and fermented soya bean paste, has a strong putrid smell that is sure to alert their neighbours. They fear they will be hounded out of their hard-earned accommodations because of their food habits.
Knowing their neighbours' and landlords' strong prejudice against the "chinkies", the group of young Naga, Mizo, Khasi, Bodo, Manipuri and Nepali youngsters try to cook as discreetly as possible. However, things start going wrong – their individual insecurities and squabbles threaten to overshadow the event, the landlady finds out, neighbours start shaming them, and it almost ends up in chaos.
The topic is highly relevant in today's increasingly intolerant atmosphere in India. Food politics is rampant, and people have been heckled, harassed and even lynched for their food choices. Eating beef or pork, for instance, has suddenly assumed monstrous negative implications, and you can lose your job/home/standing in society because of this.
The group of North-East Indian youngsters is supposed to be tight-knit and unified. They share good bonhomie within themselves, yet they are not without bias against each other. The Nepali girl, Upasana Rai, finds herself pushed to a corner for taking up the challenge of cooking a typical North-Eastern dish that is not indigenous to her community. Her hyper-Mizo friend, Chanbi, has her own survival issues, and almost drives her traumatised, jittery boyfriend to disaster for not defending her in public against typical roadside Romeos.
The voice of sanity belongs to the cool-headed Zorem, who represents the middle path of compromise with the local populace. The youngsters also find support in their Punjabi landlord's grandson, who goes out of his way to help them. Still, he too can't help making the wisecrack, "Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai"! (So North-East = Chinese??)
The film, directed superbly by Nicholas Kharkongor, is sprinkled with irony, humour and sarcasm, and there's never a dull moment. Sparring, fighting, hugging, cajoling – the chemistry between the group of youngsters is electric. The lead players – Sayani Gupta, Lin Laishram, Tenzing Dalha, Rohan Joshi – have done a remarkable job portraying flesh-and-blood characters. The supporting players, Dolly Ahluwalia and Vinay Pathak, are expectedly competent.
The ending is heart-warming. Everything can be worked out with a spirit of love, understanding and co-operation. Unity in diversity is what our great country stands for! And a bit of compromise on everyone's part is not such a bad idea after all.
The film forces us to introspect and confront our deeply-set prejudices. Who has the right to force restrictions on what we eat? Does the majority dictate everything, including how people from minority communities should live their lives and celebrate? Axone a sensitively made film that trains the spotlight on the discrimination people from North-East India face on a regular basis. I believe it is a must-watch for every discerning viewer!