An unsettling, thought-provoking narrative from the northeast

STORY: Joshua, a covert operative, is tasked to create a situation that will force rebel leader Tiger Sangha to the negotiation table for a peace treaty which has been in limbo for years. Will Joshua succeed in his mission and will peace really prevail?

REVIEW: Anubhav Sinha’s Anek is a layered narrative about efforts to negotiate a peace treaty in the northeast with a separatist group, a process that has gone on for decades without a conclusion. A covert operative, Aman (Ayushmann Khurrana), who goes by the alias Joshua, is tasked with creating a situation that brings Tiger Sangha (Loitongbam Dorendra), the top rebel leader of the region, to the negotiation table. Along the way, Aman finds that everything isn’t as black and white as he had initially thought and finds himself conflicted, emotionally and professionally.

With conversational dialogues interspersed throughout the narrative, Anek brings you face to face with the undercurrents of discrimination and alienation from ‘mainland’ India that exist in different pockets of the northeast. At times uncomfortably so, but then that is the intent of the narration. Sinha doesn’t use heavy-duty, seetimaar lines or overt jingoism. What works here is subtlety in the dialogues and performances, and some nuanced writing that brings out the essence of the grey that Sinha set out to depict through the film.

Anek, through its runtime, draws subtle parallels between the northeast and other parts of the country, in particular Jammu and Kashmir. For instance, Manoj Pahwa’s character, Abrar Butt, Aman’s superior and a Kashmiri himself, looks out of an airplane’s window while on 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” – Khusro’s well-known line that describes 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 film is engaging, but it could have done with a tighter screen time. It’s a tad slow pre-interval and comparatively fast-paced post that, and unpacks a lot in that timespan.

With some powerful performances by Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Andrea Kevichüsa, Kumud Mishra, Loitongbam Dorendra, and JD Chakraverti, the film leaves the audience with plenty of unsettling questions – primarily, what makes you an Indian. The use of silences, regional dialect, folk songs and the background score, the production design, the visual tone, cinematography and action pieces, lend themselves well to the narrative. Anubhav Sinha continues his run as a conscience-keeper of sorts, making one film after another – Mulk, Article 15, Thappad – that force you to think about equality and justice in the context of religion, caste, gender, and now region.

PS: Can you identify all the states of the northeast on a map if the names were removed?

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