‘Anek’: complex, confounding, important

Old injuries resurface in the form of pain during inclement weather. And as you get older, those injuries come back to haunt you in the form of chronic stabs. The anatomy of India, as she writhed and heaved in upheaval, led not just to her being an independent republic but also a physical boundary that left some permanent scars and some dormant wounds. In the north-east, as the demand for independent recognition rose within ethnic groups—some for another state, some for a swift cleaving from the outstretched arms and tilted head—the pose that Shah Rukh Khan would eventually employ, subconsciously one suspects, to swooning effect—of the map of India, the country began to feel her age, the adventures and the falls during its youth now returning to stiffen its movement and co-ordinated growth in increasingly stormy and polarized weather. 

It is this pain and fester that director Anubhav Sinha (MulkThappadArticle 15) explores in his latest—and most ambitious—outing. Anek (Many) cleverly employs the insertion of NE (North East) in its title, but that’s all the time for smarts that Sinha—also writing the screenplay with Sima Agarwal and Yash Keswani—has. For, in this complex journey that shows no signs of resolution, he pegs his arcs across three pivots: Aido (Andrea Kevichüsa, in pure, crystal clear form, radiating a heart-breaking combination of innocence and resolute steeliness ), a chin-up boxer from the North-East who dreams of playing and winning for India—not because the fire of patriotism burns within, but because she’s convinced that the shimmer of a gold medal is the only way to shine the path on which she and her state will ever get a stake at the media and political table without vicious references to their profession or origins. 

There’s undercover agent Aman (Ayushmann Khurrana), who goes by Joshua, running a quaint café in a north-eastern state, but is actually tasked with fructifying a peace deal between the government and the separatist groups in the North-East, all of who seem to coalesce either under old war dog Tiger Sanga (Loitongbam Dorendra)—his main target for the negotiating table—and a mysterious Johnson who’s only profile picture is co-opted from another global rebel icon. (“Who is Johnson?” is a question that haunts you for a bit a la Ayn Rand’s obsessive “Who is John Galt?”, until the director pulls out the plot ploy.) As Aman/Joshua gets into the nitty-gritty of the politics and the personalities along with his aide (Sushil Pandey), he begins to slowly distinguish more colors on the canvas apart from black and white. This unraveling of the truth’s multiperspectivity is the movie’s fulcrum on which the conflicts see-saw endlessly. It’s a brave role for Khurrana to step in, and he assays it with focal grit and tension, although I found his constant sniffing a distraction, a prop that neither adds toughness nor sinew—just a sinus indication. The actor’s content to let his co-actors get their own scenes and highlights, not dominating the proceedings a bit. 

Ayushmann Khurranna, J.D. Chakravarthy: riders on the peace storm.

Joshua’s Woman Friday at the café is Emma (Sheila Devi) who knows of his true mission and is worried sick for her hormone-charged son Niko (Thejasevor Belho), who’s the third peg of the plot. Niko’s thoughts and beliefs slowly gravitate towards the rebel group, and in a classic stone-throwing incident, is pushed from the cross-fire into the line of fire. 

From Delhi, Joshua/Aman’s boss Abrar (a terrific Manoj Pahwa) and his boss, a minister (a smooth, superb Kumud Mishra) pull the strings for the peace process, while another Intel boots-on-the-ground officer Anjaiyaah (J.D. Chakravarthy, perfectly blasé and philosophical) reports the goings-on to Abrar. Director Sinha does swift pitstops to draw parallels between the Kashmir problem and the North-East disconnect via Abrar. In Abrar is the all-knowing, scape-goated bureaucracy, while in the minister is the manipulative vote-sniper army of politicos whose primary intent is optics and narrative control. 

Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra: turning the wheels.

Director Sinha stumbles when it comes to Joshua and Aido’s relationship. Purportedly a romantic liaison, there’s no spark or even longing, just a distant, platonic undercurrent, plot point that all involved wanted to get on with in a jiffy. And in taking up a landscape so dense, so complex, and so seemingly discombobulated, the movie may seem as thick as the forests it’s shot in. But that’s precisely the point. It’s far easier to paint broad strokes, but what exactly is the sciatic nerve that fires up the muscle of separatism? Decisions of a not-distant past taken in a situation that was as chaotic as it was confusing? Or the pin-prick of the present that stirs up an infected history into fiery eruption?

Andrea Kevichüsa: the gold it’s in the..

Anek, via terrific conversational pieces—Aman and Anjaiyaah, Aido and her father (played by a very good Mipham Otsal)—stirs up these questions. You long for the answers. But towards the end, as Kumud Mishra’s minister and Manoj Pahwa’s Abrar meet, they smile all-knowingly with an ironic handshake. In a scene that’s a highlight because of the nuanced game the actors bring, you realize that those who have the answers have a piece of efficient machinery that works 24×7 to scrap those questions.

Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Anek is streaming on Netflix and rated  U/A ((Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for scenes of violence and some cuss(tomary) words.

Director Anubhav Sinha Time 2h 27min
Writers Anubhav Sinha, Sima Agarwal, Yash Keswani
Stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Andrea Kevichüsa, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, J.D. Chakravarthy
Genres Action, Drama, Thriller