Ayushmann Khurrana in 'Anek'
Ayushmann Khurrana in 'Anek' Image Credit: Benaras Media Works

When you hear rousing declarations such as “It’s easier to maintain war than to maintain peace” or “I am not in the business of trust”, your sense of outrage about the futility of war and human costs attached to it is adequately tickled.

But that bombastic bang is followed by a whimper because ‘Anek’, a politically charged thriller led by a superbly in-form Ayushmann Khurrana, doesn’t capitalise on our collective censure.

‘Anek’ meaning ‘Many’ which explores the murky terrain of cultural and national identity by those living in India’s Northeastern region in the context of a diverse country like India has some sharp selling points. But its bloated narrative shaves off the impact considerably.

Ayushmann Khurrana in 'Anek'
Ayushmann Khurrana in 'Anek' Image Credit: Benaras Media Works

There’s Khurrana who plays an undercover cop Aman (meaning peace) who embeds himself in an unidentified Northeastern state and their way of life. His mission is to obliterate rebel groups that threaten the tenuous peace in the strife-ridden state and will employ controversial methods to ensure it.

He’s masquerading as this emotionally restrained Joshua who’s in a relationship with an ambitious boxer Aido (Andrea Kevichusa). Khurrana is brilliant as this hyper-masculine cop who is studiously insensitive to the plight of the revolutionaries and the troubled civilians. He’s the kind of cop who’s at first conditioned to follow orders from his higher-ups, but later cracks and has distinct change of camps.

Meanwhile, Aido – played by Kevichusa who struggles to leave a lasting impression as an ambitious pugilist, hopes to bring sporting glory to India in the hope that she transforms into this influential soft power who can bring attention to conflicts and issues that plague her people. This film rests squarely on Khurrana and his sharp boss’ (Pahwa) shoulders and they skillfully carry the weight of this film that’s heaving with a generous dose of sermonising and posturing. The dialogues are impossibly wordy making the film look staged at several points.

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Andrea in 'Anek' Image Credit: Benaras Media Works

Dialogues around India’s diversity and its propensity to define what a true Indian also sounds stilted. These are important conversations to be had, but it plays out in a didactic manner. Many scenes are on the nose such as the one where Khurrana’s character begins to humanize the identity and daily struggles of those living in a conflict-zone.

But that’s not to say that there weren’t some high points in this film that fails to come together as a whole.

The political manipulations of those occupying the corridors of power in India’s capital, led by a manipulative Manoj Pahwa, makes for an interesting segment. The sparring and power-struggle between Pahwa and Khurrana is well-captured.

While Aido and Aman’s simmering romantic relationship is a crucial twist in the story, the lack of chemistry between the pair is a definite dampener. Her troubled relationship with her rebel father is also stretched, making the story clunky.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Andrea Kevichusa from 'Anek'
Ayushmann Khurrana and Andrea Kevichusa from 'Anek' Image Credit: Benaras Media Works

But credit must be given to director Sinha for not making the film annoyingly jingoistic. Sticky topics like what drives an armed rebel group to kill and maim or the brutality by army that wields great power is sensitively explored. ‘Anek’ has many stirring moments, but it somehow doesn’t captivate you wholly.

But if you are looking for solid performances by seasoned actors like Khurrana, Pahwa, and Mishra, then you will find a lot to enjoy in this film that takes a lot of time to get to the meat of the issue. But at times, you feel this provocative film cuts too close to our bone.

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Film: Anek

Director: Anubhav Sinha

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Andrea Kevichusa, Manoj Pahwa, and Kumud Mishra

Stars: 3 out of 5