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Zoya Akhtar's 'The Archies' Disappoints With Its One-Dimensional Characters

The Archies stars Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor among others.

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Zoya Akhtar, known for her poignant storytelling and intricate character development in films like Luck by Chance and Gully Boy, released her newest venture on Netflix on 7 December -  a film adaptation of the iconic Archies comics. While the film, set in 1960s India, impresses with its immaculate world-building and brilliant music, the way the characters have been written felt amiss. There is a stark contrast between the rich emotional narratives of Akhtar's previous works and the somewhat one-dimensional characters in her Archies adaptation.

The Archies stars Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor among others.

Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor and Dot in The Archies.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

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While Zoya has faced criticism for allegedly making films exclusively for and about the affluent, a closer examination of her filmography reveals a more nuanced reality.

Contrary to the accusations, her repertoire includes socially diverse narratives, as exemplified by the raw depiction of the Mumbai slums in 'Gully Boy' and the penetrating exploration of the Bollywood industry in 'Luck by Chance.'

Even in films set against opulent backdrops like Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,  Akhtar deftly intertwines the complexities of human emotions and conflicts within the lavish settings. 

The Archies stars Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor among others.

A still from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

For me, this ability to capture authentic human emotions and craft characters with depth has been a hallmark of her work. Her films are testaments to her talent in portraying layered characters with depth and shades. Whether it's the aspirational struggles of Sona in Luck by Chance, the trepidations of Aisha in Dil Dhadakne Do or the raw authenticity of Safeena and Murad in Gully Boy, Akhtar has always demonstrated a keen understanding of human complexity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for her Archies adaptation, where the characters, despite the meticulously recreated 1960s world, lack the emotional resonance that has become synonymous with Akhtar's filmmaking prowess.

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Archie, the protagonist, is portrayed as the perpetual flirt, Veronica is defined by her wealth and sass, Betty embodies the girl-next-door archetype, Dilton is a know-it-all and Jughead is constantly eating. That’s it.

Each character seems to be reduced to a single defining trait, lacking the multifaceted nature that Akhtar has expertly woven into her previous creations. The result is characters that feel forced and fail to resonate on a deeper emotional level. 

The Archies stars Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor among others.

A still from The Archies.

In Luck by Chance, Sona's journey wasn't just about aspiring to be a Bollywood star; it was a nuanced exploration of dreams, compromises, and the price one pays for success.  Safeena and Murad in Gully Boy are portrayed with layers that go beyond their surface traits, allowing the audience to empathise with their struggles and triumphs, and the internal conflicts they face in balancing their dreams with societal expectations. The main leads of Akhtar's Archies adaptation, however, lack this layering.

'The Archies' is essentially a coming-of-age story and these stories inherently demand a profound exploration of character growth and development.

These narratives thrive on the detailing of human experience, capturing the essence of transformation and self-discovery. Zoya Akhtar's prowess in navigating the complexities of her characters in previous works raises expectations for a similar depth in her Archies adaptation.

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The premise inherently carries the promise of dynamic growth, reminiscent of classic tales where young protagonists rise to the occasion (in this case, saving the town's ecology and history in the name of development). However, this promising narrative is diluted, and the potential for meaningful exploration of courage, camaraderie, and personal transformation is largely wasted for half-baked scenes.

In one of the nicer scenes from the film, where Veronica and Betty confront Archie, only to tell him that they would choose their friendship to each other over him, I saw a glimmer of what the film could have been.

But sadly those moments were so few that it could be counted on the fingers of  one hand, and felt like forced attempts at making a point. 

The Archies stars Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda, Khushi Kapoor among others.

Suhana Khan and Vedang Raina in a still from The Archies.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

My disappointment also stems from the missed opportunity to infuse The Archies characters with the same authenticity and richness that have characterised Akhtar's storytelling in the past. This film could have been a unique canvas for exploring societal dynamics in the early decades of independent India, personal struggles of teenagers in that era, and the evolution of their relationships. Unfortunately, the characters feel like mere sketches, lacking the substance needed to engage the audience on a profound emotional level.

As audiences, we yearn for characters who mirror the complexity of real-life individuals, characters who struggle, evolve, and finally triumph. Zoya Akhtar's The Archies adaptation leaves us wanting more—a deeper exploration of the human experience that has been a defining feature of her filmography. 

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  The Archies 

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