Leave it to Zoya Akhtar to get you excited about a film about rich kids and their little naive problems, and then take it all away in a 2-hour, 23-minute-long snooze fest. I really wanted to like this film; in fact, I’ve been defending it since the trailers dropped, just to have an objective viewpoint on it all, but now I simply feel embarrassed. The Archies is set in the fictional Anglo-Indian town of Riverdale, somewhere in the north of India. The film follows 17-year-old Archie and his friends (mostly the two girls he’s confused about) as they navigate through friendship, romance, and a real-world problem—the future of their beloved park! As I put those words down, it makes me realize how true to them the film actually is. I would like to say that there are some enjoyable parts in this film, maybe the two dance numbers and a handful of jokes, but it would be a disservice because you could just watch the two songs and be done with it.
We’ve already seen this beloved comic bullied by the monstrosity that is The CW’s Riverdale, and somehow lessons haven’t been learned. There was potential; the idea is most certainly worthy of applause: the Anglo-Indian community, post-Independence—a new world for the young. But that’s about it for the novelty. Of course, for a drama film, one can’t really complain about predictability, but after a certain point, there’s absolutely nothing to look forward to in this film. Akhtar’s The Archies is simply a superficial story about a fickle-minded red flag who, at the end of the day, takes it all thanks to his privilege. I suppose you can call it naivety, or at least that’s what leading man Agastya Nanda plays it off as. Alright, obviously you’re here to know if the new kids on the block bring anything interesting to the market, and my short answer is, unfortunately, no. Agastya is somewhat charming but doesn’t have a very commanding presence. Maybe it’s the particular movie; there’s no such thing as a “hero.” They’re kids, but the spark is just missing. Interestingly, for such a long movie, it feels like there isn’t enough of any of the other characters to truly judge their skills—a case of overpopulation or underutilization?
Suhana Khan, on the other hand, is rather delightful; she’s got some adorable little quirks to her that make her endearing, even as she plays Queen Bee Veronica Lodge. Her character, on the other hand, feels watered down and flat compared to any other version of Veronica we’ve seen before. Khushi Kapoor is very much outshined by Suhana, and in all honesty, they’re pretty much the same character, so people will definitely be making comparisons. The distinctions between them are not so much in their personalities but in the external factors that were intended to shape them uniquely, but they don’t. The highlight of this film most definitely has to be Vedang Raina, who, like in the trailer, stands the tallest. Most disappointingly, though, his character, Reggie, could’ve easily been done away with. Yes, he has one teeny-tiny important thing to do, but really, anybody else could’ve done it all the same. It’s really a shame, because he’s the true star of this film (with the added benefit of looking like a Renaissance painting). The rest of the kids do their jobs well; Mihir Ahuja’s Jughead is simultaneously annoying and mostly right. Yuvraj Menda’s Dilton is quite the charmer, and Dot’s Ethel’s plotline comes across as the most rushed and tacked-on of the lot. The adults all simply do their jobs, which sometimes feels unnecessary.
The musical genre is a favorite of mine, and while one can argue that most Bollywood (or Indian) cinema comes under this category, The Archies falls under the more American definition of these films. Nobody breaks out of character and changes 500 costumes within a dance number, but they do start dancing in posh diners where the protagonist can’t afford the food. There’s nothing innately wrong with the plot of The Archies, but it’s the execution that makes it feel all over the place and very disjointed. One second you’re watching Archie fall in love with Betty, and the next you’re watching the Lodges make their big redevelopment plans. While the big dance numbers, specifically the one with the skates and “Va Va Voom,” are thoroughly enjoyable (the best moments in the film, really), added to the mix are what feels like 100 English tracks to just make it fit the genre mold and drag on the storyline. There’s, of course, no denying that Zoya Akhtar still manages to take you to another world with stunning sets, perfect costumes, and great music. I would love to spend hours in Cooper’s bookstore or walk barefoot on the grass of Green Park.
Maybe it is the fact that this is a film mostly about teens, something Akhtar hasn’t quite done before. While it is an advantage that this is a period film and their dialogue can be stiff, they also appear to be more like modern teens than those of the 1960s. Somewhere in the middle of the film, it becomes rather apparent that there was confusion between wanting to deliver a message and just making a fluff-fest with pretty faces, great music, and a decent story. The latter being my expectation of the film, which I believe could’ve been more fun and true to Akhtar’s style. At the end of the day, what seems to be lacking in The Archies is a personal flair, something that Akhtar, as we know, is fantastic at presenting. Is it the source material that stilted her, or the pressure of it all? We may never know. The Archies is a forgettable mess that’s too long and somewhat boring. On the other hand, if you want to have a laugh, you could pick it apart with friends or your siblings to make for a fun experience. I’d give The Archies 2.5 out of 5 stars, the .5 for effort and Vedang Raina’s “Grease” hair.