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Film review: The Archies

By Nimra Amir, December 23 2023—

The Archies, the musical coming-of-age comedy, directed by Zoya Akhtar released on Netflix this Dec. 7. After great anticipation for how the nepo babies of Bollywood would perform in their grand debut, it is safe to say that the talents of their parents or grandparents are not exactly hereditary. 

The film, set in Riverdale, follows the original cast of characters from the Archies Comics, but with Indian influence. Riverdale in the mid-1960s is the safe haven for Anglo-Indian families, especially after Indian independence from British rule — but amidst corporate development, the group of friends must protect the sanctity of the town that they have grown up in. Of course, all the while they also have to overcome the petty drama of high school. 

The dark-haired heiress Veronica Lodge (Suhana Khan) returns to Riverdale and to her former boy-toy Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda) who is two-timing her with blonde girl next door Betty Cooper (Khushi Kapoor). While Jughead (Mihir Ahuja) tries to warn Andrews, it is to no avail — the rest of the film continues down this path of inevitable conflict, which is quickly overshadowed by Hiram Lodge (Alyy Khan) who upon his return to Riverdale plans to spearhead redevelopment which jeopardizes Green Park. However, because Green Park is connected to the history and especially, the independence of Riverdale, that prompts interference in the wrongdoings of the rich businessmen and corrupt politicians.

It does not come easy though. Just like how Andrews does not care for the feelings of the girls he is playing, he also does not care for politics. So although Cooper may lose her family bookstore, it is not until the corny song-and-dance number “Everything is Politics” performed at Riverdale High School, in response to the news that their school canteen will not be run anymore by the local cafe but instead will operate through pre-packaged lunches, that Andrews is radicalized into an anticapitalist activist who starts the movement to upend the development through their petition against the local council. 

Everything in the world does have to do with politics and accordingly, as citizens, we should be informed in the choices we make everyday in the world. But for me, the film falls short in its idealism that if as citizens we are informed in the choices we make every day in the world, then we can independently protect private goods like Green Park from corporate interests. Instead, we should be placing that same responsibility on the rich businessmen and corrupt politicians who should at the very least be regulated in their actions but more importantly, held accountable for their crimes — even if they are fictional characters in Riverdale. 

Especially when the film teeters the line with sympathetic dialogue for the elite, like when Lodge says, “Mere father ek businessman hain and I’m not going to feel guilty about that,” or translated to English, “My father is a businessman and I’m not going to feel guilty about that.” But her father is not just a businessman. Her father is a criminal who coerces votes from the council with blackmail through insider Mr. Dawson (Vinay Pathak) and intimidates the press through threats. This is quickly forgotten when all the votes, which in another crime are initially hidden from the council in their totality by Mr. Dawson, exceeds the requirement to reverse their decision. 
The actors do their best but with such an overdone plot of saving the small town from the big businesses, their performance too comes off lacklustre. Of course, the vibrant colour palette in the professional costumes and sets may distract by presenting an ideal world but ultimately, The Archies fails to connect the world of Riverdale to the world that its viewers actually live in. Instead, it becomes some sort of detached piece of media that exists seemingly to be eye-candy for kids who are easily impressed by the conventionally-attractive cast of young actors that sing and dance to writing that has no real substance.

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