Like several films and shows releasing in the last three months, which were not intended to see daylight during a pandemic, finds a newfound relevance in an audience immured at home. In the case of Axone, the discrimination faced by people from the Northeast — who have been at the receiving end of misplaced anti-China prejudice, owing to the origins of coronavirus — feels a lot more urgent. This ‘othering’ of Northeastern citizens, based on their appearance, language, accent, customs and cuisine, has been a longstanding issue, and Axone deals with it with levity and observational humour, while occasionally pulling punches against the discrimination and addressing it directly. The latter could have been didactic, as is the fear with ‘films with a message’, but Axone’s authenticity ensures it doesn’t.
The film is a good example of a demographic of people telling their own stories. The narrative and look of the film have a lived-in quality to them, which can’t be easily feigned. Although taking place within the bubble created by a few Northeastern friends in Delhi, the film is not insular in its telling. It pays appropriate homage to Northeastern cultures, while also bringing out the idiosyncrasies of a typically middle-class Delhi neighbourhood, which is home to an amusing Punjabi grandmother aka mataji (Dolly Ahluwalia).
- Director: Nicholas Kharkongor
- Cast: Lin Laishram, Sayani Gupta, Dolly Ahluwalia, Lanuakum Ao, Jimpa Bhutia
- Storyline: Taking place over the course of a day, the film follows a few friends in Delhi as they cook Axone for a wedding
Some critique of the discrimination is scathing, while others witty, maintaining a good balance. At the start of the film, we see a black couple living in the same building as two Northeastern protagonists, insinuating their ‘otherness’ to be the same, almost as if both communities are ‘diaspora’. It all ties in at the end when a protagonist has his outburst against ‘Indians’. The biases depicted are not unheard of, yet to see people live it on a daily basis has a renewed effect, and that’s probably the power of audiovisual narrative.
The film’s biggest drawback is its structuring. Although centred around cooking Axone, a pungent-smelling dish, for a small wedding taking place the same evening, the film goes in all directions, splitting between characters and often cutting at points when you’d want to see more of a scene. Some portions drag on, while others feel too short. But one could argue such is our daily lives — haphazard. Let alone a day, when it all goes wrong. The relationships between the characters, of friendships, uncertainties and insecurities aren’t given enough screen time to make an impact. Despite that there is a lot of empathy generated for the character of Chanbi, owing to Lin Laishram’s embodiment of a stoic, mildly selfish, dominating yet vulnerable character. With the rest of the cast, especially one of the drunk friends, deftly bring out the humour in the film and unapologetically display the specifics of a particular culture.
Food is such a fundamental pillar of any culture, carrying with it everything from traditions to skills acquired through generations. Through food, Axone brings out the smells of a culture (although, at times, is a little too on the nose). The olfactory sense is often forgotten in an audio-visual medium, and there’s a certain charm to not only see and hear but also smell a story.
Axone is currently streaming on Netflix