Anubhav Sinha’s latest film, Anek, is a socio-political spy thriller set in a part of India that isn’t often spotlighted—the turbulent Northeast. The NE in Anek refers to the North-Eastern states—Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. These states are collectively referred to as the Seven Sisters, to the big brother state of West Bengal.
Anek is more than a thriller. It focuses on identity, on what it means to be Indian. It forces you to think about equality and justice in the context of region. It offers a sharp contrast between Indians who take their identity for granted versus those who struggle constantly to be seen as Indians.
Sinha’s other films, Article 15, Thappad, Gulaab Gang, etc. have similar themes involving social conscience.
Anek, starring Ayushmann Khurana as Aman/Joshua, introduces Andrea Kevichusa from Nagaland as Aido, an aspiring boxer. Aido, despite the constant racist slurs, wants to be a boxer like Mary Kom so that she can prove to India that she is worthy of her Indian identity.
Aman goes undercover as Joshua. His task: bringing Tiger Sangha (Loitongbam Dorendra), leader of one of Northeast India’s biggest insurgent groups, to the table for peace talks. In order to facilitate this, Aman creates a fictitious insurgent group, called Johnson. Then he finds that there is another organization of the same name, and this organization has nothing to do with violence and the drug trade. Instead, it is working on education and the rehabilitation of drug-addicted youth. The hope is to reduce their dependence on the “Mainland” for jobs.
Violence, Gangs, And Drugs
Tiger Sanga wants to gain control for himself. Meanwhile, a schoolteacher who goes by Johnson, wants the people of this fertile area to flourish by harvesting vegetables, herbs and spices. The problem: the region’s trade routes are squeezed into a bottleneck. What they produce cannot be delivered to the rest of India. Because the Indian government is not investing energy and funds into this region, the area is under grave economic stress. This is causing the inhabitants to fall prey to violence, oppression by gangs, and drugs.
The film underscores that the Indian government, in their effort to deploy peace, has failed to help the people of the Northeast. To quote some of the interchanges in Anek: “Peace, or peace accord, is a dirty business. Peace is about control; peace is never achieved.”
Anek is a sad and tragic tale of young boys being kidnapped by rebel groups and forced to become child soldiers in the name of peace. My heart broke, not once, not twice, but many times to see these discarded Indians whose life is crushed even before it starts.
I have met several young girls from the North East in Bombay working in restaurants, hotels and Thai massage parlors. I often ask them about their lives/families left behind in the Northeast. They are lonely, uprooted people, often the primary breadwinners who are constantly worried about their families back home.
In the film, mothers like Emma cook and care for the people around them, but their hearts are deep cauldrons of sorrow and despair. There are anek (meaning numerous) Johnsons (gifts of god) who spring from the hills, but will they be able to bring peace to this region?
Divide And Rule
Aman/Joshua uses every trick in the trade to try and unite the country. The hero’s journey transforms as he grapples with the situation at hand and starts thinking from the mindset of the people he is trying to infiltrate. Manoj Pahwa, as Joshua’s senior officer, is a cog in the old wheel of “divide and rule” renders effortless, masterful acting.
Joshua poses this question: Kashmiris live in the North but don’t speak clear Hindi, so are they North Indian?
My niece, who has a Punjabi mother and a Tamilian father, has features similar to Andrea Kevichusa. She is not Chinki (a crude/racist way of refering to Indians hailing from the Northeast). She is Indian!
The film has created a lot of dialogue on social media about this issue. I hope this stimulates the government to bring genuine and lasting peace to the people of the Northeast.
Anek is jointly produced by Bhushan Kumar’s T-Series and Benaras Mediaworks, and is streaming on Netflix.