Director Zoya Akhtar ('Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' and 'Luck By Chance') has her work cut out for her. On the surface, she's on call to launch the careers of at least seven newcomers, including Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter Suhana Khan, late Sridevi’s daughter Khushi Kapoor, and Amitabh Bachchan’s grandson Agastya Nanda in Bollywood, with the Netflix film 'The Archies' premiering on December 7. But if you go beyond the obvious, she's tasked with adapting the beloved American comics into a glossy musical set in India’s hill station Ooty.
The escapades of fictional teenagers Archie Andrews (Nanda), Betty Cooper (Kapoor), and Veronica Lodge (Khan) are brought to life in 'The Archies'.
At the recently concluded International Film Festival Of India (IFFI) held in Goa last month, Zoya Akhtar and her co-writer Reema Kagti sat down in a masterclass to discuss their ambitious project featuring age-appropriate actors who are on the cusp of being adults.
Gulf News was on the grounds to get you all the meat. Here’s what we gleaned from their in-depth conversation about bringing the Riverdale gang to life with a bunch of new faces. The 180-seconds trailer has already garnered over 27 million views, making it one of the most anticipated films of the year. Here's what the makers had to say about their movie filled with young adults.
Zoya Akhtar found the casting process painstaking:
Nepotism may be a charge that the Bollywood industry continues to battle, but director Zoya Akhtar maintains that finding the right actors for this role was an incredibly challenging part. “This was a big process because these characters are so iconic that we didn’t want established stars or names because they come with an image. The audience already has a relationship with them. We didn’t want that, and we knew we wanted new faces that will come and fill these rather big shoes of the characters in the Archie comics. The casting process took eight to 12 months because we needed our actors to be around 17 years of age. Trust me, we tested every kid for multiple roles… We wanted the nascent talents to have at least one quality that will match with our characters, and they had to also be a physical match with that character making it a difficult process.”
This is no launch vehicle for star kids, clarifies Zoya Akhtar:
One of the most accomplished directors behind compelling movies like the star-studded buddy road-trip film ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ and Farhan Akhtar-starrer 'Lucky By Chance', maintains that her new project is not the traditional launch vehicle for children with famous actor parents. “As a filmmaker, you need to decide the tone of your film. If you are making a film and the character is larger-than-life, then you can introduce them on screen in a particular way, but I haven’t made such a film with ‘The Archies'. It’s not about who the actor is, and the actor is for me to know, but for the audience, it should be about the character.”
‘The Archies’ explores teenage angst and heartbreak:
The film, set against 1960s India, boasts colorful characters from the Anglo-Indian community in Ooty, a hill station in South India, says director Zoya Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti.
“First, we needed to root the characters Archie, Betty, and Veronica to a place where they fit culturally and not just their names. So the Anglo Indian community was a great fit, though in my head Betty is a Parsi [laughs]. But setting them in a community that has a little bit of that dating culture, the music, the dance, and fashion that are more westernized were crucial… But instead of an American Deli, we chose a face that you find in hill stations. So, we've taken elements that are very that are completely iconic to the comic but moved them to India and adapted them in a way,” said Kagti.
In the popular comic segement, Archie Andrews was the portrait of a typical American bloke who loved soccer and surrounded himself with cool friends. He was largely good-natured, but his confusion on whether he loves Betty Cooper with that wholesome girl-next-door vibe or the rich/snooty Veronica Lodge forms the crux of most chapters.
The onus of doing justice to the popular comic book:
Both Zoya Akthar and Reema Kagti grew up on a diet of Archie comics, and this comic book was a big part of their growing-up years. For Akhtar, Archie comics were her “go-to escape”. “It was the only thing that I could relate to during my teenager phase. I was an Enid Blyton fan who read those ‘Famous Five’ novels up to a certain age, but then it was Archie Comics throughout my life. I don’t remember ever not reading Archie Comics. It was our portal to the West. It introduced us to a different lifestyle because at that time we didn’t really have television programs or streaming shows… Archie Comics was the only thing out there for teenagers. So as a 12-year-old, it was just aspirational to have that gang of friends. So it meant the world to me.” For Reema Kagti, the allure and battles were slightly different. “My sister and I would fight over who read it first. Then my dad would come, pull rank and read it first himself. It was a big part of my growing-up years.”
Adapting the Archie comics into Indian milieu and its challenges:
But the easy ‘yes’ turned into something far more scary. “First, it was an easy yes and then panic set in. Remember, the comics are episodic in nature and converting that into a two-hour narrative isn’t easy. Plus, just like that 12-year-old who read that comic, I just wanted to transmit that feeling of innocence… There was a lost innocence, a lost idealism, and a naivete to those comics. It was so wholesome and I wanted to bring all those signature elements into our film,” said Akhtar, adding that she wanted to capture the innocent family dynamics in her film.
Making the call to make it a period teen drama and how it helped retain authenticity to the original work:
It may be the first time that the comic book is getting a full-feature length film, but it has been previously made into a series entitled 'Riverdale' spanning seven seasons and a whopping 137 episodes. The makers were entrusted with giving an Indian spin was keenly aware of that.
“They have done a contemporary version [American streaming show ‘Riverdale’] and they have done it well, and it has been hugely successful, so it didn’t make sense to do a repeat of that in India… So we set out to fictionalize a fictional place. It was a choice between setting it in Goa or a hill station filled with the Anglo-Indian community… And Goa had been done many times on Indian screens and done very well, so we wanted to explore a new place. And the comic book is also very green, so a hill station would capture that.”
Don’t Miss It!
‘The Archies is out on Netflix on December 7