While watching ‘Axone’ by writer/director Nicholas Kharkhonger, I was briefly reminded of my junior college days in Pune, with nearly 90% of my hostelmates comprising of girls from the North East. While I barely understood their varied languages and their ways of life, a common ground held us together. Food.
Traversing through the dingy lanes of Delhi, is a tale of unconditional friendship between a bunch of 20-somethings from the North East, who must combat snarky neighbours and racial bigotry to find a decent place where they can cook their friend’s most favourite and traditional smoked pork dish with Axone, as she’s getting married. For those who do not know, Axone or Akhuni is sourced from fermented raw soybeans which is then used in the preparation of a wide variety of North Eastern delicacies.
Firstly, I can’t think of a more polite way to put this, so without mincing my words, let me be clear, that mainstream movies are equally guilty and infact a little more in perpetuating unhealthy stereotypes against the highly marginalized North Eastern citizens of our country. We can count the actors from the said region on our fingertips and the number of films that they have appeared in might be lesser. Hell, we needed a mainstream actor to play a celebrated sportsperson from Manipur.
Director Kharkhonger has little interest in changing your thoughts or ideologies towards his kind through the film. He understands that two hours would barely make the cut in comparison to years of conditioning. Instead he chooses to chart a narrative centered around food which focuses breezily upon lasting friendships and the noble virtue of kindness that supersedes all social barriers to address the elephant in the room. There is a fleeting reference to the horrific episode of racial abuse in Delhi, faced by Nido Taniam, a student from Arunachal Pradesh in 2014. The screenplay is subtle but effective. Gaurav Sharma’s dialogues drive the point further. The production design by Yasmin Sethi accompanied by Parasher Baruah’s cinematography offer a lived-in experience of Delhi. The visuals of the smoked pork dish being prepared are thoroughly enticing. Almost feels like an invitation extended to you to join the sojourn.
The performances are a handful to relish. Sayani Gupta as Upasana, a young Nepali and Lin Laishram as Chanbi from Manipur lead the pack like a dynamic duo. They’re ably supported by Tenzin Dalha (recently seen in ‘Guilty’) playing Zorem, who runs a provisional store in the neighbourhood and Lanuakam Ao, who plays Bendang, a musician lad coming to terms with an ugly episode. Dolly Ahluwalia, playing the neighbourhood landlord granny and Vinay Pathak, playing her hopeless son-in-law are a hoot. But its Rohan Joshi playing Shiv, the oddball in the North Eastern gang, who leaves a lasting impression.
At a mere one hour and forty minutes, ‘Axone’ is that rare film that satiates your hunger for good content and makes you ponder in equal measure.
Go now to Netflix and start streaming.