Anek review: Ayushmann calls for unity in aNEkta, but easier said than done

Though it carries an inclusive message for our North East brethren, the average screenplay hurts the Anubhav Sinha film.

Rating: 2 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

Talk of Seven Sisters of India, and chances are that ardent couch potatoes would reveal the names of the seven daughters of Lala Lahori Ram – Sudhir Pandey’s character from the popular TV show Amanat [1997-2002]. Hey, that would be great trivia. However, we have a serious film at hand that aims to give a balanced perspective of the political conflicts in the North East of India. Earlier, they were the Seven Sister States before Sikkim was added as the eight state to form the North Eastern Region [NER] – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim.

Wait a second, is this reviewer conducting some general knowledge test? No, but it’s also a reality that the North East Region isn’t much spoken of in public domain in the rest of the country. And director Anubhav Sinha’s Anek [2022] has a separatist talking of a some Indian minister confusing Tripura as the capital of Mizoram. Let’s be honest, for the rest of India, the North East states mostly figure while mugging their names, capital cities as part of prep for any IAS [Indian Administration Services], MBA or other competitive exams. The minister’s ignorance is a reminder that India is a land of anek (aplenty/many), yet far from being the ek (one) nation in spirit.

Director Anubhav Sinha’s Anek [2022] doesn’t spell out the conflicts, or any particular state, but it speaks for the people of North East as a whole. And so we get to see car number plates that list the region as NE For the ignorant non- North East Indian, how does s/he become aware of the anek (many) issues that have plagued the major states of the North East for many years? A Kashmir is an international dispute, hammered, broken down, shoved into our conscious regularly by media. But save for border clashes with China, or the separatists plaguing both India and Myanmar, the politics of the North East seldom feature in popular media discourse. The ignorant non-North East Indian is perhaps, too, lazy to unearth the issues him/herself. A little bit of detailing would have given such viewer a headstart. Writer, director Anubhav Sinha’s film puts the average viewer into a limbo, opening the North East conflicts to conjecture. Let’s just say many of these conflicts, separatist movement are borne out of ethnic clashes. The long stereotyping of people of Mongoloid features in rest of India has all the more encouraged the separatist movements.

Political films are akin to walking on a tightrope with any slip carrying the threat of repercussions. Sinha is compelled to take the ambiguous, ‘based on NE political conflicts’ route. So, we have secret agent Aman [Ayushmann Khurrana] masquerading as Joshua in North East region. He is dating a young boxer Aido [Andrea Kevichusa]. The Indian government is closing in on a peace deal with a powerful separatist group leader Tiger Sangha [Loitongbam Dorendra], but the threat of a rogue, low-key terror group Johnson or Jhonson looms large over these peace efforts. Aman’s journey leaves him with more questions than answers.

The capital NE in the title aNEk is smartly placed. While Anek is clear in its anekta main ekta message (unity in diversity) but it’s just easier said than done. As a non- North East Indian and one coming from a thriving and peaceful state [Maharashtra], it is easier for us to embrace this ideology, but how many of us can convince our aggrieved North East brethren? A peace ideology should be embraced but not imposed on anyone.

While it doesn’t give a voice but an Anek [2022] lends an ear to the problems of the NER. The Tiger Sangha and Dibakar [Kumud Mishra], presumably Union Home Minister, conversation sheds on a whole different aspect of diversity. True patriots love to flash their unity in diversity badge, but a diversity can also be misused to further divide a nation. At least by those who are hell bent on special status, privileges. India’s constitution stands for diversity but the choice is down to a citizen, whether s/he wants to use that progressively or destructively. Unfortunately, the father Wangnao or Vangnao [Singhmipham Otsal] choose his separatist movement, but her daughter Aido dreams to fight for India in the boxing arena. It’s surprising how despite being in such a house, the daughter hasn’t emulated her father. Hey, not all children end up as terrorists too.

An Anek has its heart in the right plate, but unfortunately, the usually matured Sinha fumbles with his screenplay. The key problem with Anek is that despite being based on political conflicts, we don’t really get a sense of this film being in a conflict zone. To the naked guy, the largely quiet atmosphere robs the film of the requisite intensity. Yes, it has its share of combats, disturbing scenes none more vivid than young boys being locked in wooden cells like chickens in a cage. Did someone mention human rights violation? Ah, we’re not going there.

Director Nicholas Kharkongor had introduced us to fine talents from the North East in his acclaimed drama Axone [2019]. Sinha, too, embraces the horses for courses policy by roping in few uncut diamonds. Among the North East characters, it is Niko [Thejasevor Belho] who grabs our attention. The teenager simply wants to pursue farming, stay in his native, sing songs, but the political crisis leads to him taking up arms. A man of few words, Belho impresses with his intensity.

Singhmipham Otsal is good with his Hindi, but that is not the reason to admire the theatre actor. Though not intimidating, but Wangnao strikes you as a mysterious character.

Andrea Kevichuso (R)

Young Andrea Kevichusa must be simply delighted with the attention she’s got in the run up to the film. While she lacks the intensity of a true blue [presumably Manipur] boxer, but the character, albeit fictitious one, gives hope for the future. Despite the problems in the North East, the regions has given us marquee sports stars like Mary Kom, Lovlina Borgohain. We’re seeing new heroes like Umran Malik, Tajamul Islam from the other big conflict zone – Kashmir. While sports cannot resolve political conflicts, it certainly is a great incentive for youth in these regions to chuck the terror ideology.

Manoj Pahwa and Kumud Mishra are now inseparable from an Anubhav Sinha film. The duo work as team as Union Minister Dibakar and Abrar [perhaps intelligence bureau chief or senior army official]. Abrar’s intriguing as here is a Muslim from Srinagar who is a key security official. His powerful dialogue of people’s voice being heard daily suggested a different tale. But in the film, it does cast aspersion on the man’s integrity. A TV bulletin reads the tragic killing of Indian soldiers in Kashmir. Next moment, we see the man sipping his wine. Abrar’s conduct is a subtle reference to the politics and power games in the upper echelons of the state. Pahwa’s performance is another tour de force.

Ayushmann Khurrana in Anek [2022]

An actor of Ayushmann Khurrana’s caliber usually finds first mention in any review. We thought Anek to be Khurrana’s maiden action hero role, but Khurrana’s happy to be unassuming. Aman largely bears a quizzical look, content to absorb all that’s around him, think and then react. The odd snorting, short hair, wry smile also suggests of Aman having a slight mean streak to him. In his pre-release interviews, Khurrana has been honest in having low-key ambitions for this content. The only time he is a little authoritative is in his conversation with fellow agent Anjaiah [J.D. Chakravarthy]. While Aman may not be your in-the-face agent but Khurrana would simply be glad to pass the ‘let’s be Indians first’ message. As for Chakravarthy, Bollywood fans will be happy to see the Satya [1998] actor back in a Hindi film after 2012.

For all its promise, Anek leaves us disappointed. After giving a hat-trick of intense, quality films like Mulk [2018], Article 15 [2019], and Thappad [2020], Sinha is below par in Anek. The dreary first half hurts Anek badly. The intensity partly picks up in the second half thus building some engagement. While we firmly believe in the Voice of Anek [inspiring track], but the dull script sees Anek not having the desired impact.

Anek [2022] is currently running in theatres. Watch the trailer below.


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