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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



aNEk, Review: Many a dull moment

aNEk, Review: Many a dull moment

Many, several or various are the one-word translations of the title. The reference is to the various cultural and ethnic identities that inhabit India. This is popularly called ‘unity in diversity’. Under British rule, India consisted of hundreds of little ‘kingdoms’, most of which joined the Indian Union, when the British granted Independence. Collaterally, another nation, Pakistan, was carved out of India, and came into being a day before the Indian Independence day, 14 and 15 August 1947, respectively. Since then Kashmir, on the Pakistan border, has been a powder keg that keeps exploding practically every day, as separatists make terrorist attacks. Pakistan backs these terrorists, and has gone to war with India at least thrice. Another simmering region is the north-east of India, which consists of seven states. Separatist groups there, too, make demands quite similar to their Kashmiri counterparts. The NE in the title is an acronym for the North East. Little usually makes it to the media about the conflict there, because Kashmir grabs all the headlines. aNEk is an attempt to highlight the ground reality in the North-East. If you are well-read and politically aware, it will be a lesson lost on you. And if you are ignorant and unaware, you will find that aNEk is too confused a film to really educate you, though it tries both methods of narrative: subtle dialogue and violent clashes.

An undercover Indian police operative Aman (known as Joshua or Josh in the region) is trying to work out a peace deal between two warring factions among the separatist tribes of the NE. He befriends a young female boxer, Aida (called Aido in the film) to keep an eye on her father, Johnson, who is secretly running a terrorist operation, because he wants to pit him against the bigger fish, Tiger Sanga. Both Tiger and Johnson indulge in standard terrorist/separatist activities: collecting illegal tolls from vehicles, gun-running and drug-dealing. Josh too joins the fray, supplying drugs and guns, to be accepted as one of their own. Aido, who is a very talented boxer, wants to win the National Boxing Championship as an Indian, but faces huge discrimination from a senior official, who backs a girl from Haryana, merely because the Haryana girl looks more ‘Indian’ than the chinky-eyed Aida. Nevertheless, her old, asthmatic coach, continues to train Aido very hard.

Tiger Sanga gives a long TV interview, and this causes the Police Chief in Delhi, and a senior Minister in the Indian federal government, to take strong notice. They ask him to join peace talks, but he is adamant on two issues: his state will have its own constitution and its own flag. Such pre-conditions can hardly be acceptable to any government, which insists that the states in the NE are all part of India. Sanga reminds them about certain promises made in the 1940s, and accuses the Indian government of reneging on them. Seeing no way forward, the Indian government creates a ‘Johnson’, a local who has his own aspirations, and fans a territorial war. Likewise, many are unaware that ‘Johnson’ is a pseudonym for any operator who is propped-up by India to counter-balance the might of Tiger Sanga. Aido is unaware of her father’s secret identity, and, what could be worse, in love with Josh, who is using her. Aman’s handlers decide that he is turning rogue, tap his phone, record his movements, and bring in another, senior, operative, with a small crack army team to handle the situation.

Among the most political films made in India, aNEk is written by Sima Agarwal (screenplay), Yash Keswani (screenplay) and director Anubhav Sinha (dialogue). Many scenes are like lectures in political science or a discourse on the separatist movements in India, especially by the North-East and Kashmir. It simultaneously tackles the two questions that have troubled many inclusive Indian thinkers: Who is an Indian? and Is it right to identify states on the basis of their geographical position, only when looking at them from a central India or north ern India position? On a couple of occasions, this sounds like a classroom lecture on ideology, and begins to generate ennui. Whenever the goings-on become exceedingly proselytising, the script moves into various ambushes and encounters, with a lot of explosives and gunfire. That might be a tool, but it becomes predictable, almost like a trope.

One generic problem with intellectual discourses of the kind that is on display here is that those who are well-read and informed about the situation in the North-East, where the equivalent of Kashmir’s Section 370 of the Constitution (which was recently abrogated) is Section 371, which is quite similar in effect, will find nothing new in the film, except, perhaps, realising the extent to which the problem pervades the region. They would not have thought things are so bad. Now, when we come to viewers who are either marginally aware or completely aware of the situation, which is quite close to that of a grenade with the pin removed, they might not be interested in learning more about it or getting educated, in the first place. If both these sections of the audience are alienated, what is left? A small number of curious cine-goers, and maybe fans of the lead actor, for there is no other star in the film. That said, it is bold film, way bolder than Yeh Gulistan Hamara (1972), made on a similar theme. Dialogue is meaningful and relevant, except when it gets contrived and speech-like.

After Article 15, another political but much more palatable film, Anubhav Sinha made Thappad and now comes aNEk. Thappad was not a political film, but dealt with women’s rights. It appears that Sinha has a penchant for legal and constitutional subjects. In aNEk, his casting and his ability to extract performances from even the bit players and cameo actors must be applauded. But his narrative begins on a misleading note, with the heroine being arrested in a night-club, for no fault of hers, due to differences between the police and the operator. This is not what the film is about. The title gives little idea about the content of the film, nor does the tagline ‘Jeetega kaun? Hindustan!’ (Who will win? India!). One scene that was brilliantly directed was the TV interview of Tiger Sanga, but one swallow does not a summer make.

Coming to the acting, Ayushmann Khurana (also the lead in Article 15) plays Joshua, alias Aman (his name means ‘peace’ in Urdu), is confident and puts in a standard Ayushmann Khurana performance. There is nothing to shout about, though. Andrea Kevichüsa makes an impressive Aido. Manoj Pahwa as the Police Chief, Butt, gets a really meaty role for a change, and makes the most of it, as does Kumud Mishra, as the Minister. The Mishra trade-mark smirk is still there, but not as pronounced as it used to be. J.D. Chakravarthi as the agent on Aman’s trail, is as easy they come, and his accent is no problem, because he is identified as someone who hails from Telangana. I am guessing the role, but Deeplina Deka as Pavlina Hazarika must be the mother of Nico, the teenager, who joins the terrorists. She’s done a great job. Sadly, neither Nico, nor Tiger Sanga nor the TV interviewer could be identified. All three turn-in above par portrayals. Also in the cast are Shovon Jaman, Abhinay Raj Singh, Azzy Bagria, Sharik Khan, Hani Yadav, Mubashir Bashir Beig, Amir Hossain Ashik and Loitongbam Dorendra. Our Tiger Sanga and Nico may be among them.

At 147 minutes, it is tedious viewing. aNEk has Cinematography by Ewan Mulligan, Editing by Yasha Ramchandani and Music Score by Mangesh Dhakde. The songs are composed by Anurag Saikia, an obviously Assamese name. All the departments are well manned.

aNEk is a good example where the parts do not add-up as a whole, and in between some solid content, there is many a dull moment.

Rating: **      



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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