Alyy Khan as Mr. Lodge
Alyy Khan as Mr. Lodge

The Archies has the most likeliest of all of Archies’ stories to be made into film. Given the brand’s ill-luck with Hollywood, it is both a wonder — and a moment of serious face palm — how easily Bollywood was able to make a film out of it.

As with any adaptation (especially if one takes into account how Hollywood approaches adaptations by mangling them), The Archies shifts things around for its convenience.

For starters, writer-director Zoya Akhtar’s film (the dialogues are written by her brother Farhan Akhtar), nails the visual setting. Set in the 1960s, the town of Riverdale is reset into an Anglo-Indian community… because it gives the filmmakers the ease of using names such as Archie, Reggie, Veronica and Betty.

Riverdale looks like the Riverdale of your dreams — and, thank heavens, not the Riverdale of the television show. If you are anywhere above the age of mid-30, and used to read books and comics, it will look mighty nostalgic to you.

Behind the facade is the likely story I referred to earlier: Veronica (Suhana Khan) returns to Riverdale after a summer trip abroad and, as usual (at least to the comics) triggers Archie’s (Agastya Nanda) romantic feelings towards her.

Zoya Akhtar’s fi lm tells a story one expects, yet it manifests as an Archies’ story without The Archies

Archie, who lives right next door to the literal manifestation of the-girl-next-door image of Betty (Khushi Kapoor), can’t make up his mind between the two. His always-hungry pal Jughead (Mihir Ahuja) warns him of the dangers he is getting into.

While the romantic arc (does not really) develops, Hiram Lodge — a wonderful Alyy Khan, nailing the essence of the character and the villainous stereotype he is forced to play — eyes the historic town park, and plans to erect a mega-tourist attraction hotel there.

Greasing palms, coercing town hall members and offering better monetary avenues to townsfolk directly in the line-of-sight of his grand plans, Mr Lodge’s devious, capitalistic plans run smack into Archie and the gang’s, who rally to save the landmark.

It is a story one has probably read in the comic’s 84-year-long history — or is the perfect story one can come up with if one wants to tick off the checklist of everything one associates with Archie.

Right?

Well, kinda wrong.

Even if one forgets the blatant display of nepotism at play — Agastya Nanda, Suhana Khan and Khushi Kapoor are star kids; Agastya is Amitabh Bachchan’s grandson, Suhana is Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter and Khushi is Boney Kapoor and Sri Devi’s daughter. But given that the film is helmed by Javed Akhtar’s daughter — who has always been partial to Bollywood families (check out her filmography to see what I mean) — and that the dialogues are written by her brother, one can’t really blame the gusto to see past that gaping blind spot.

Still, one wonders how the film would have been if budding actors with actual acting prowess were cast in these roles… or for that matter, if the filmmakers would have burst through their bubble of seriousness and kept the happy-go-lucky vibe of the source material.

The Archies
The Archies

Despite the seeming simplicity of the premise, much is changed, toned down and realigned for today’s audience. Jughead, an important, often ingeniously smart, supremely lazy and perpetually hungry friend, is relegated to the backseat as a throwaway supporting character.

Archie’s other “pal”, Reggie (Vedang Raina), wants to have a career as a stand-up comic but is coerced by his dad (Luke Kenny), who owns Riverdale’s daily paper, to search for important stories. Reggie is not the over-achieving, jealous, prankster-cum-romantic foil to Archie, and he is a romantic crush for Dilton Doiley (Yuvraj Menda) who, apart from Lodge and Ethel (Aditi “Dot” Saigal), looks like the character from comics.

Dilton is the smart kid of the class, but is far from the genius inventor in comics. But then again, Archie is also not the klutzy, dim-witted, cute teen either. He, like the others in the young cast (the youngsters are all so-so in the acting department), is a chiselled, lanky, supremely physically fit actor who can dance quite well, but is far removed from the traits that make these characters the people they have been for decades in the pages of comic books and thick digests.

Zoya’s film, overlong (it runs for nearly two-and-a-half hours) with a lot of ear-catching but ultimately forgettable songs (they are by Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy) looks like a perfectly designed doppelganger — a bootleg that looks the part, carries the feel through its ambience (goes to show how big a part production design plays in a film), and tells a story one expects… and yet manifests as an Archies’ story without “The Archies.”

I guess the curse of telling the perfect Archie story stays strong, be it Hollywood or Bollywood.

Streaming now on Netflix, The Archies is rated suitable for ages 18 and over. The film will likely resonate with the older lot who know what the The Archies are about and, given the way the film is made, it is the same older crowd that will likely be turned off by its missed opportunities

Published in Dawn, ICON, December 24th, 2023

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