Axone review: Food for Thought!
By: Shrikanth Venkatesh
Critic's Rating: 3/5
Monday 22 June 2020
Axone review: Food for Thought!
Sayani Gupta, Lin Laishram, Rohan Joshi
One could say that the timing of the release of Axone (Hindi) on Netflix couldn’t be better. At a time when frequent reports emerge in the media (mainstream and social), of Indian citizens of North-Eastern nativity facing racism and persecution tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, this film delves deep into the lives of these people and makes a case for how they are no different from any of us.
Axone essentially follows the story of three women hailing from the North-East, but currently residing together in Delhi. Upasana (Sayani Gupta), Chanbi (the brilliant Lin Laishram) and Minam (Asenla Jamir) are best friends and flat mates. Like other fellow immigrants, they too harbour dreams of a better life and career prospects in the country’s sprawling capital city. What sets their situation apart from other immigrants though, is the constant persecution and sly racism that gets thrown their way on a daily basis.
“It’s morning, and you are still so sleepy your eyes haven’t opened fully yet”, their bitter land lady remarks to them first thing in the morning.
“My young son wants to know how you manage to see the whole picture, with eyes this narrow” enquires another woman, with a fake bearing of innocence in her tone.
“Are you from China”? - another generic slur.
Even Shiv, their landlord’s son, who ultimately turns out to be a helpful friend can’t help make sexist remarks before offering assistance. “I’ll do this for you, but can you get me a girlfriend from the North-East?” he asks Upasana and her friends, without an inkling of shame.
The worst part about all these slurs is that these people seem to have taken it in their stride and learnt to live along. This has led them to form a cocoon, a community of their own within their locality, and they hardly interact or attempt to forge friendships outside of it. In fact, the toll on some is far greater than on others who have learnt to cope. Take the character of Bendang for instance, a musician and Chanbi’s boyfriend. A video of him facing a racial attack and getting beaten up in a market area went viral on social media. This sent him spiraling into deep depression and anxiety, post which he is shown locking himself up inside his own home for days together.
In the midst of all this unpleasantness, there is now a moment to celebrate for this community too. Minam is getting married and the function is set to happen inside their own apartment (you wonder how and there’s a twist here in the end, but watch the film to find out for yourself)! They have a problem though. As per tradition, they need to prepare a dish called Axone for the ceremony, and it emanates a really foul smell while it gets cooked. This is obviously a nuisance factor for their already obnoxious neighbours, who deny permission both to conduct the wedding and to cook the dish within the premises.
This leads Upasana and her friends on a goose chase, to find a kitchen where the cooking of this dish would be permitted, in the couple of hours that are still left for the wedding. During this process, we also get to know more about the dynamics within their group. We learn that Upasana’s boy-friend Zorem was Minam’s ex-lover and due to this, he harbours mixed feelings about helping out on Minam’s wedding day.
We also learn another interesting dynamic about Upasana herself. She is technically not from the North-East, and is in fact a Nepali. Due to this, she faces passive persecution within her own community of friends and not all of them accept her as their own. But when someone is finally required to step up and prepare the elusive Axone, it is fittingly Upasana who volunteers and helps out!
There is also a parallel comedy track of sorts following the character of Shiv and his misadventures in trying to help Upasana and her friends. Some of these scenes are mildly irritating but one of them is really hilarious and had me in splits. This involves a pediatrician who apparently never has use for a BP machine. Ask him why, and he says “Bachche tension lete nahin hain, sirf dete hain (kids don’t take tension, only give tension)”!
Axone is a heart-warming film that is to the point and also entertains at the same time. As mentioned before, it attaches high social relevance to itself due to the times we live in today, where movements like #BlackLivesMatter have spread rapidly around the world, condemning racial discrimination in any form. I was lucky enough to have had the chance to travel to the North-East as a teenager, and the only thing I remember from the trip is the overflowing affection and friendliness that greeted us everywhere we went. Axone is that community’s friendly way of telling us, that if we couldn’t even bear the smell of their favourite dish getting cooked, it’s our own hearts that are actually rotten!
Shrikanth is a Chartered Accountant, who keenly follows and writes about cinema when he is not crunching numbers or balancing ledgers! You can find more of his work at Non Linear Plot
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