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The Archies review: Zoya Akhtar's glossy star kid launchpad plays it too safe

The loudest conversation around ‘The Archies’ has been about privileged star kids getting such a huge launchpad in Bollywood. Zoya’s film is determined to be cutesy and lacks self-belief.
Archies (Hindi)(2 / 5)

“To make art, you have to go in, my son, not out” – Archie’s frustrated father tells his offspring in Zoya Akhtar’s Netflix musical The Archies (2023), co-written with Ayesha Devitre Dhillon and Reema Kagti. It’s a principle that Zoya has followed for most of her work, providing an accurate and often insightful peek into rich people’s first-world problems without ever being dismissive of them. The Archies has the gloss and shine of this world, but throughout the film, I found myself asking who it is meant for – a middle-aged, nostalgic audience that grew up on the American comic or today’s teenagers whose problems and concerns are far more complex than what the film is prepared to confront. 

Riverdale in the film adaptation is a small Anglo Indian community where everyone knows everyone, and people are always eating cake. The retro design is charming, from the billboards advertising old brands to the hairstyles and costumes. This is where Archie (Agastya Nanda) and his friends – Veronica (Suhana Khan), Betty (Khushi Kapoor), Jughead (Mihir Ahuja), Reggie (Vedang Raina), Ethel (Aditi Saigal), Dilton (Yuvraj Menda), and Moose (Rudra Mahuvarkar) – live their overwhelmingly pleasant lives. 

The loudest conversation around The Archies has been about privileged star kids getting such a huge launchpad in Bollywood. In that sense, Suhana’s Veronica, based on the saucy Ronnie from the comic, is the answer to those screaming ‘nepotism’. She’s rich, she’s daddy’s little princess, but she has problems of her own. Veronica’s father, Mr Lodge (Alyy Khan), is a heartless capitalist in the film, a man who is determined to tear down the community’s precious Green Park in the name of development. 

Aha! Yes, The Archies does flirt with contemporary politics every now and then. So, you have one character earnestly telling another that they might be a minority, but they have the right to stay back and defend their mulk. But these attempts are too meek and too tenuous to really make the film layered or relevant – even if there is a song that boldly claims “Everything is Politics”, the writing shies away from taking any risks.

More interesting is what the film does with the famed love triangle from the comic – Archie two-timing Veronica and Betty who are friends with each other. In the comic, this was treated as a matter of comedy, and back in the day, many of us read it as an honest portrayal of teen sexuality when it was, actually, a “boys will be boys” kind of excuse. But if Barbie (2023) could engage with the problematic history of the doll and all that it has represented, why not The Archies? In one of the better scenes in the film, Betty and Veronica confront Archie about his behaviour and form a sisterhood beyond misters.

The rest of the film, though, is determined to be cutesy. There is too much singing and dancing going on, even if the young cast is better at it than their dialogue delivery. All right, I know this is a musical, but that doesn’t mean the characters shouldn’t have decent arcs or that the conflicts shouldn’t be adequately built. The film ends up looking like Bal des débutantes, with nothing to pique our interest. The actors are earnest and try to bring out the best-known quality of the character that they’re playing, particularly Agastya, Suhana, Khushi, and Aditi. But their lines often don’t land well – the jokes especially are tame and of the “dad joke” variety. 

The Archies locates itself in the past to make a point about the present and the future. What it needed to accomplish this is more heart and self-belief. Without that, this is a world where nobody has to eat bread because there is always cake, and it becomes difficult to stay invested in a fairytale where even the witch is only a song away from radical transformation. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture, and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.

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