On June 12, Netflix released Nicholas Kharkongor’s Axone. The film had its world premiere at the 63rd BFI London Film Festival. Based on the theme of discrimination against the people of North-East India, the film is interlaced with humor that provides quite a few light-hearted moments despite a serious theme.
The trio of Upasna, Chanbi, and Zorem lives in Delhi and hails from the North-East. They plan to cook “axone”, a pork-based Nagamese dish, as a surprise for their friend Minam to be married. However, the notoriously pungent smell of this traditionally fermented dish gets them into trouble with their neighbors and their North Indian landlady.
Nevertheless, the youngsters plan to execute their clandestine cooking mission by finding an alternative place. Whether they succeed in making axone is for the viewer to find out after watching the movie.
Kharkongor, through a film dipped in comedy and satire, intelligently brings to light a very relevant issue hovering over India. It’s the problem that arises when we do not consider ourselves as all Indians but rather as separate entities, relating our identity to the region or state that we come from. The axone dish is just used as a metaphor through which the issue is presented.
There is a scene in which Chanbi asks her boyfriend Bendang why he only associates with those from the North-East and not with other Indians. There are moments in the film that stink of prejudice and stereotyping. One such example is when a remark is made that all people from the North-East look alike. There is another situation in which the character of Shiv, the grandson of the protagonists’ landlady, is shouted at with an expletive used before the word Indian. Also, there is an emotional moment when Upasna is made to feel that she is a Nepali and that she does not belong to the club of the North-East.
Earlier in the film, Bendang is shown with his guitar, frustrated and struggling with the lyrics of a Hindi song. As the film progresses, it turns out that his frustration is linked to an unfavorable incident that had happened to him. Towards the end, he is shown happily singing the same song amidst his group of friends. This is nothing else but a subtle hint that it is possible to fit into an environment that may not be within one’s comfort zone.
The film does not belong to any character specifically but rather rests on the shoulders of the entire group to take the narrative forward. However, my personal favorite is Lin Laishram as Chanbi. She stands out as someone who is outspoken, strong-willed, and yet affectionate. She emerges as a loving friend and a supportive girlfriend to Bendang. Sayani Gupta perfectly fits into the role of the Nepali girl with her witty dialogues.
The duo of Dolly Ahluwalia as the cranky, sharp-tongued landlady and Vinay Pathak as her jobless son-in-law is a fun combo. But it is Rohan Joshi as the perky Shiv who provides the real comic treat. With his crazy ideas, he tries to help the group to prepare axone. It is extremely funny to see the multiple times he expresses his interest in having a girlfriend from the North-East. Albeit in a cameo, it is a pleasure to see the immensely talented Adil Hussain. Settled outside on the street with a newspaper in his hand, he rolls his eyes, suspiciously observing the youngsters.
Kharkongor celebrates the cause of the North-East, and he does so in a manner that will especially appeal to those from that region. However, I do feel that the script could have been a bit tighter to keep one’s attention more focused.
The story of discrimination against the people of the North-East is not new and has been told and retold many times. On countless occasions, they have been called “chinky”, “momo”, and “chowmein”. Axone comes at an ideal time to draw attention to a valid issue. It is extremely sad that since the start of COVID-19, there have been cases of those from the North-East being called Corona and also being physically attacked.
We are talking about racial discrimination rearing its ugly head in the USA with the death of the African American man George Floyd. But this is also the hour when we Indians need to learn our lessons of acceptance and equality. It is time we stop calling each other names and behave as one India instead of separate entities based on religion, caste, or statehood.
This pandemic has brought the world to its knees, and practically all human lives are at stake. If this is not the time to learn the gospel of empathy and brotherhood, I don’t know when we ever will!
This article appeared as a Featured Post in Women’s Web )