The musical adaptation of the beloved Archie comics shepherded by director Zoya Akhtar will seem like a soothing palette cleanser if you have been scarred by the likes of Ranbir Kapoor’s hyper-toxic and violent film ‘Animal.’ The female friendship code showcased in a sacrosanct manner in this benign film – a cluster-casting of star kids like iconic actor Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter Suhana and the late legend Sridevi’s daughter Khushi Kapoor -- is also a welcome change. Director Zoya Akhtar does a neat job of transplanting the Riverdale gang to a colorful Indian milieu. The jump from the page to the screen may seem staged and a tad sterile in the beginning, but you warm up to the Riverdale gang and their almost utopian world quickly.
While the popular comics were set in the fictional town of New York, Akhtar brings her characters -- the lovable and amiable Archibald Andrews (Agastya Nanda), girl-next-door Betty Cooper (Khushi Kapoor), and the wealthy, sporadically snooty Veronica Lodge (Suhana Khan) – alive in a sepia-toned Anglo-Indian community living in Ooty, a hillside destination in South India. The battles of this lovable bunch of young adults aren’t global in nature or as significant as world peace, but their cause – a collective bid by a spirited bunch of 17-year-olds to save their neighborhood park and trees from corporate greed – still feels relevant.
While it’s heartening to see age-appropriate casting in a Bollywood film, the talents that showed immense promise and budding star power are Suhana Khan and Vedang Raina, who play Veronica Lodge and Reggie with utmost sass and flair. Khan – who has inherited her iconic dad’s on-screen charisma and magnetism -- seems to be a natural on the small screen and appears to be having fun playing the spoilt, privileged, and sometimes catty Lodge. Newcomer Raina is also memorable in his role as the self-assured and conceited Reggie. We wish we had seen more of Reggie. My heart also went out to actor Yuvraj Menda who played the nerdy teen Dilton Doiley to perfection, just like the highly efficient Mihir Ahuja (food-loving Jughead Jones) and Dot (Ethel Muggs). But the same couldn’t be said of Agastya Nanda and Khushi Kapoor, who play the crucial roles of Archie and Betty Cooper. On paper, they should ideally be doing the heavy-lifting, but somehow they appear coltish when it comes to acting. At the risk of sounding like a strict teacher grading students, they do get marks for being earnest.
But whether they cracked the DNA of Betty and Archie – so pivotal to making it a cohesive story – remains questionable. Somehow, Agastya – who was on call to be a clumsy lothario/lovable jock - couldn’t bring the different shades to Archie alive. His performance felt restrained and limited. For instance, the caddishness of Archie, an angst-free bloke on most days who was essentially two-timing Betty and Veronica because he couldn’t make up his mind, wasn’t brought to the front. Perhaps, someone as seasoned and versatile like Ishaan Khatter, albeit five years older than Agastya Nanda who’s now 23, would have been a better fit. But that’s just a thought. While it’s essential to remember that it’s their career’s first film, we should ideally cut them some slack. But not every viewer will be in a forgiving and benevolent mood. Khushi Kapoor, who got the opportunity to play somebody as popular as Betty, should have run with her role. But she fails to move you. In comparison, the other adult actors who play their parents or town’s corrupt and greedy councilmen (Vinay Pathak) go a bit overboard and appear like a caricature.
While the movie is engaging in parts, ‘The Archies’ doesn’t have the same enduring appeal as Akhtar’s previous films like ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,’ which felt like an effortless and seamless buddy romance. The start of this musical is unbelievably theatrical, but fortunately, there’s redemption in the second half when the drama and action pick up. Watch this film if you are in the mood for an unthreatening film that may not rock your boat but will lull you into a world where problems aren’t monstrous, and its players aren’t bestial.
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Cast: Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor, Agastya Nanda, Vedang Raina, Mihir Ahuja, Yuvraj Menda, Dot, Koel Puri
Stars: 2.5 out of 5
Don’t Miss It! ‘The Archies’ is out on Netflix now