REVISION: Anubhav Sinha’s Anek is a layered narrative of efforts to broker a peace treaty in the northeast with a separatist group, a process that has dragged on for decades without a conclusion. An undercover agent, Aman (Ayushmann Khurrana), who goes by the name Joshua, is tasked with creating a situation that brings Tiger Sangha (Loitongbam Dorendra), the region’s top rebel leader, to the negotiating table. Along the way, Aman discovers that not everything is as black and white as he had initially thought and finds himself conflicted, emotionally and professionally.
With conversational dialogue interspersed throughout the narrative, Anek brings him face to face with the undercurrents of discrimination and alienation from “mainland” India that exist at different points in the northeast. Sometimes awkwardly, but that is the intent of the narrative. Sinha does not use heavy duty setimaar lines or overt jingoism. What works here is subtlety in dialogue and performance, and nuanced writing that brings out the essence of gray that Sinha set out to represent throughout the film.
Anek, throughout its runtime, draws subtle parallels between the Northeast and other parts of the country, in particular Jammu and Kashmir. For example, Manoj Pahwa’s character Abrar Butt, Aman’s superior and Kashmiri himself, looks out of an airplane window during a flight to the northeast. Taking in the breathtaking view, he says: “Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast” – The well-known Khusro line describing the picturesque beauty of Kashmir. Through the window of that plane, the director offers you a glimpse of the outer beauty and inner turmoil of both regions.
The movie is engaging, but could have done with tighter screen time. It’s a bit of a slow pre-interval and a comparatively fast-paced post, and it reveals a lot in that time frame.
With some powerful performances from Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Andrea Kevichüsa, Kumud Mishra, Loitongbam Dorendra, and JD Chakraverti, the film leaves audiences with many unsettling questions, most notably what makes you an Indian. The use of silences, regional dialects, folk songs, and the background score, production design, visual tone, cinematography, and action set pieces all lend themselves well to the narrative. Anubhav Sinha continues his career as a kind of conscience keeper, making movie after movie (Mulk, Article 15, Thappad) that force you to think about equality and justice in the context of religion, caste, gender and now the region.
PS: Can you identify all the northeastern states on a map if the names were removed?