Zoya’s Archies: Not ‘desi’ enough and flagbearer of nepotism?

The teaser of Archies was criticised roundly on social media for not just being ‘desi’ enough but also because of Bollywood's blatant display of nepotism. For the cast includes SRK’s daughter Suhana Khan, Sridevi’s daughter Kushi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan’s grandson Agastya Khan

Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti (R); the cast of Archies

Bollywood refuses to grow up and smell the popcorn. Back in the late 90s, Karan Johar, who was still a gauche, unsuitable boy back then and yet to become Bollywood’s big daddy, made Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. He has admitted in his autobiography that the film was inspired by the comic book, Archies, based on the handsome, red-haired, freckled-nosed all-American boy, who is caught between the rich, beautiful Veronica and his comely buddy, Betty. In KKHK, Shah Rukh Khan too is smitten by the mini-clad, svelte Rani Mukherjee, the daughter of the principal (who resembled Weatherbee lusting after a sexy Mrs Grundy), bypassing his tomboyish basketball buddy – Kajol.

Years later, director Zoya Akhtar set social media afire when she unveiled that she was making a direct Indian adaptation of Archies (a Netizen quickly responded, “Why not make a film on an Indian comic character like Billoo, not British enough for you?”) He quite missed that Archies is American but probably was referring to the westernised look of the film. Many on social media loved the idea, some wondered if she would pull it off?

Knowing Zoya’s impressive oeuvre, which includes movies like Luck by Chance and Gully Boy, she may just be able to swing it. After all, she seems to be a master at capturing breezy, coming-of-age films of upper class Indians caught up with pressing dilemmas to marry or not to marry in her 2011 Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or in her 2015 Dil Dhadkne Do, a satirical look at the Delhi’s uber rich and their problems involving their confused son (Ranveer Singh), who has to be bribed with an aircraft to marry the rich dude’s daughter, who can bail out the family company. That’s the kind of problems we would all love to have.

The teaser of Archies was criticised roundly for not just being ‘desi’ enough with teenagers in berets and munching on burgers and girls in short, pretty dresses romping in some forest. One social media user perceptively asked what is “The essence of making a white American show with an Indian cast? …It sure doesn’t look like even a retro metropolitan Indian adaption”. Yes, the teenagers looked like they had come from another time zone or country. This live action musical is set in 1960s, we are told.

What rattled Netizens however, who are more sharp and watchful than our saffron sanghis, was Bollywood’s blatant display of nepotism. For the cast included SRK’s daughter Suhana Khan, Sridevi’s daughter Kushi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan’s grandson Agastya Khan, who are all making their grand debut in Akhtar’s deft hands.

Also read: Starkids Suhana, Khushi Kapoor, Agastya Nanda to debut with Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies

Despite a caustic Kangana Ranaut waiting to lash out at the ‘Bollywood family’ mafia, Akhtar, who herself comes from an enviable cinema lineage, with lyricist and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar as a father and Honey Irani, a Bollywood screenwriter (Koi Mil Gaya) as mother, proudly and blithely revealed her cast. Sharing a small first look teaser on her Instagram account, Zoya wrote, “Ain’t nothing like old school (oh, is that what it is?). Grab your gang ’cause the Archies are coming soon on @netflix.in.”

According to Zoya, Archies was a large part of her childhood and teenage years. The characters are iconic and globally loved, which is also why, she admits, being a little nervous. “I have to make sure the film stokes the nostalgia of a generation that grew up on the comic and yet resonates with the young adults today,” Akhtar said when the film was announced.

But, this elite Bollywood group, which often works like some close-knit Italian mafia, is not as blaise to biting sarcasm on nepo kids.

For Amitabh Bachchan went ga-ga about his grandson and tweeted after the announcement: “Agastya… a new chapter begins in your life and there cannot be greater joy among us all … my blessings my love and my wishes ever … do well…And keep the flag flying.” Sure, Agastya is the third generation of Bachchans to enter Bollywood. Agastya is the son of Bachchan’s daughter Shweta Bachchan Nanda and business tycoon Nikhil Nanda. Agastya’s father is the grandson of Raj Kapoor. Cannot get more blue blood than this in Bollywood.

A few hours later, however, Bachchan senior deleted the tweet from his profile. No one knows why.

However, SRK, who has achieved some kind of Zen status with trollers (after having to deal with the worst phase in his life with his son in jail) tweeted that it was “incredible” that from renting the Archie’s Digest for 25 paise per day from book rental stores to see Zoya Akhtar make this come alive on screen. “Wishing all the little ones the best as they take their first little steps into the most beautiful of professions,” he said. Abhishek Bachchan too wished the “kids” and advised them to work hard, stay humble and enjoy the ride!

All very well, but if you don’t belong to this clique what happens to you? It can be quite daunting for young newcomers in Bollywood to be pitted against this group. Will they ever get such an easy walk into a Zoya Akhtar film? Today’s viewers are also not so indulgent as they were in the past, who welcomed a Kareena Kapoor or an Abhishek Bachchan with open arms. It is like how the younger generation in Britain doesn’t give a hoot about royalty, something like that!

These kids too seem out of touch with reality. Suhana Khan was mocked for saying how her parents realised that she was serious about acting when they saw a performance of hers playing Miranda in a school performance of The Tempest. And, SRK may go go blue in the face insisting that he doesn’t want his kids to be designed as stars, and that he wants them to be launched when they are good-enough actors. But, the bottom-line is Suhana could not have bagged the role as easily if she wasn’t his daughter.

Nepotism is also rampant in south cinema but it is not called out so brutally as it is in Bollywood. Maybe, because the sons themselves have huge fun clubs whose members would go and bash up someone if they said anything about their beloved star.

Be it SRK’s daughter or Bachchan’s grandson, at the end of the day, even as Kartik Aryan’s Bhool Bhulaiya and Kangana’s Dhakaad are scheduled to release this weekend, nepo kids have to be worried about that one big hurdle they have to cross without daddy’s help! Their films have to set the cash registers ringing in the box office or else they will be booed out of Bollywood.