“Peace is a subjective hypothesis,” says one character in Anubhav Sinha’s new action thriller, which examines the political conflicts that have plagued Northeast India for generations. This casual aphorism – and the film itself – is riddled with ambivalence, a welcome departure from the nationalistic jingoism that has ruled Hindi cinema and its box office in recent years.
Anek asks the difficult question of what it means to be Indian, a loaded riddle in a period where Hindutva rhetoric has fostered brutal discrimination all across the country. For Aido, a Northeastern Indian boxer played by newcomer Andrea Kevichüsa, her dream of earning a spot on the national team is enough to prove her belonging in a land where her people endure racial abuse on a daily basis. For her father Wangnao (Mipham Otsal), a school teacher who covertly leads a rebel group against government forces, assimilation is associated with the stripping of cultural identity. In between stands Joshua (Ayushmann Khurrana), an undercover agent who finds his loyalty put to the test. In a nicely understated performance, Khurrana delivers his lines with a stoicism that recalls the suave charisma of 1970s Amitabh Bachchan even if, in this contemporary age, the angry young man no longer exists; he is weathered down, caged in a system that incites bloody unrest while simultaneously punishing those who fight for political autonomy.
Anek is a rare commercial film that spotlights Northeastern Indian stories, and goes out of its way to refuse to condemn guerrilla fighters as terrorists. Here, violence is not a spectacle, but rendered as the inevitable symptom of subjugation and intolerance. The film might be didactic in tone, but it is the kind of didacticism that injects political integrity into a cinematic landscape sorely lacking a backbone.