Axone | Review | Sayani Gupta, Vinay Pathak

festival circuit November 4, 2019


By Nicholas Kharkongor with 7.5

dramedy · films

Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station showed a day in the life of a black man in the USA, his daily chores, his relationships and his work, only to end with the inevitable. When Axone started, I worried for a similar end. However, 'a day in the life’, if used well, might just be a very effective method to show the daily troubles of a marginalised community in a hostile space. This film, with its tight script and memorable characters, goes ahead to prove the same.

‘Axone’ is the story of a day in the life of a group of friends who are from the North East and are living in Delhi. The narrative follows them as they prepare for the wedding of their friend. They are adamant on cooking axone pork, a traditional North Eastern dish which is delicious, but has an unbearably pungent odour while being cooked. Imagine the dysfunctional ventilation systems in narrow, congested Delhi apartments and you can smell the problem entering your living rooms.

What follows next masterfully walks the line between being hilarious as well as eerily disturbing. It is always emotionally charged and the stakes always high. Much of the humour comes at the expense of the north Indian characters in the story - the benevolent young grandson of the landlady who wants a "North East ki gf". The landlady herself and her son-in law (played by Dolly Ahluwalia and Vinay Pathak, respectably) are brilliantly written, with the stereotypes not coming in the way of authentic portrayal of a hot-headed north Indian family.

The well-fleshed out characters in the group are perhaps the best part of the film. It does not just remain an ‘us vs them’ story. Instead it is as much about a group of friends trying to overcome a problem despite their differences, and in the process growing as people. It is a story as old as time which, if told right and with a suitable context, never fails.

Director and writer Nicholas Kharkongor intelligently draws the line between casual racism and more serious, deep-seated issues.

The character of Bendang, a troubled North Eastern man who finds it hard to keep up with the many sides of Delhi, reveals sensitive problems of identity, unwelcoming locals and mob violence. His harrowing arc ends with a surprisingly nuanced conclusion that elevates the film.

The same, however, cannot be said of all aspects of Axone. There are moments that are cheesy enough to become a bit tough to digest, especially with the male protagonist and his former girlfriend. Certain cinematographic choices might not go down well with all viewers, and the story runs itself into a rut unnecessarily at points (there is a sequence of people calling each other to find a place which could have been crisper and tighter).

Yet, for all its flaws, it is an extremely sincere film by a person who knows exactly what they want to portray. The film has left me with a question I often think about, perhaps it lies at the core of the film's philosophy.

When unable to find a place to cook axone, one of the girls of the group visits a North Eastern friend who is married to a Sikh man. The woman sagaciously asks her, "We have the right to cook our food, they have the right not to smell it. Whose right is more right?"

Ultimately, the film’s message matches its tone. The director does not shy away from serious issues, but refrains from blowing them out of proportion. His message is one of union and love, and a profound belief in the ability of humans to redeem themselves.

Written by Nimish K Sharma