Axone : Marinating racism through slow cooking diversity

Movie: Axone

Cast- Sayani Gupta, Lin Liashram, Vinay Pathak, Dolly Ahluwalia, Tenzin Dalha, Rohan Joshi, Lanuakum

Director- Nicholas Kharkongor

Axone is a culturally significant concoction that should otherwise be consumed for prolonged diversity.

Nicholas Kharkongor’s Axone/ Akhuni is a classic take on discrimination against the North-eastern community. In the opening scene the protagonists are in a hurry to procure the Akhuni to prepare a special dish for their best friend’s wedding. Akhuni is a fermented soya bean condiment cooked with pork/ fish especially by people from Nagaland. The film takes place in the course of the day while addressing the anti-China prejudice mixed with humour. With the increase in resentment towards North-eastern students during the pandemic, the film stands as a relevant testimony for the attacks they face on a daily basis.

Set in Delhi, the film begins with a group of friends planning to throw a surprise party for their best friend, Minam on her wedding day by presenting a North-Eastern delicacy, Akhuni, which is her favourite dish. This might seem a simple affair but Akhuni’s pungent odour makes it the most complicated and prohibited dish among neighbours in the area. Using this as premise, Kharkongor paints a vivid picture of displacement and societal privilege. In a rather tensed moment, Bendaag shoves the north Indian boy Shiv who is pestering him, by cursing him as a ‘Fucking Indian’. This is one of the most iconic scenes in the film.

The director succeeds in portraying the inner journey of each character with a subtle glimpse into their past. The casting compliments the narrative. Sayani Gupta as Upasana(the Nepali best friend) is a visual treat, Lin Laishram as Chanbi is endearing, Lanuakumas Bendaag, Dolly Ahluwalia as the Punjabi house owner and Tenzin Dalha as Zorem is commendable. There are many instances in the film we feel guilty, as viewers, about our casual racist remarks. One particular scene that stayed with me is when ‘the secretary’s kid asks Jassi (Martha’s son) whether he can see the entire wall with his small eyes, which infuriates Jassi’. Even the kid’s mother doesn’t think the question to be offensive. Such instances remind us how collectively responsible we are in promoting discrimination. The film doesn’t overtly dramatize, rather is minimal in its undertaking. Kharkongor’s effortless shifting from one character to another is impressive. He doesn’t fail to address the internal conflict among the protagonists since one among them is from Nepal. Axone chronicles Northeastern cultures with perfect understanding. Suresh Pai’s editing adds to the film’s lustre portraying Axone as an intriguing satire.

Nevertheless, Axone disappoints in several instances. One of the characters in the film compares Akhuni’s smell to septic tank leaving the viewers in a dilemma. Also in another scene, Bendaag who is in depression, sing a Hindi song, which he had problem in singing earlier. In the same sequence, Bendaag asks his girlfriend to leave the city because he can’t take the injustice any longer. This confuses the viewer. Another unacceptable scene is that, the neighbours who cause panic attacks are easily forgiven, with one small act of help. The director tries to instill empathy among the viewers but indirectly ends up, making them feel pity for the characters.

However, Nicholas Kharkongor’s attempt to spread awareness about North-eastern culture is praise worthy. By using smell as a metaphor, Axone gives a microscopic view of the ‘other’ in society. It is the first time, a mainstream commercial film is made in Hindi, based on the cultural diversity of the North-easterners.

Axone is now streaming on Netflix.

Radhika Menon is a freelance creative writer and journalism graduate.