Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies is one of the most talked about 2023 Netflix releases, especially in India. It has more to do with the cast than the nostalgia surrounding the comic adaptation that will be set in an Indian hill station in the 1960s.
Akhtar and the entire cast of The Archies were at the recent TUDUM event in Brazil, where they showcased a teaser and interacted with the media. During this interaction, Akhtar was asked about the criticism the film has been receiving, especially regarding representation and nepotism.
In particular, Akhtar was asked to respond to comments suggesting the cast did not look “Indian” enough and appeared too “white” as if they hadn’t spent a day in the sun.
Akhtar had to say this as per TOI, “Why do you think that? They’re all Indian. This is kind of reverse (racism). Are you saying fair Indians are not Indians? How do we define what an Indian looks like? It could be Hrithik Roshan, it could be Mr. Rajinikanth, it could be Diljit Dosanjh, it could be Mary Kom. That’s the beauty of India. There are a lot of Indians that are light-skinned.”
To be fair to the concerns being voiced on social media, the cast of The Archies is not very representative of how diverse India is. It should also be noted that Bollywood (as well as a large section of Indian society) suffers from a severe colonial hangover with a preference for fair skin over darker skin, which is generally what the Western media tends to associate with Indians.
Incidentally, Akhtar’s 2019 film about the underground rap scene in Mumbai, Gully Boy, had received backlash for putting the lead actor, Ranveer Singh, in brownface.
The Archies isn’t the first period drama set in the 1960s in India revolving around characters who appear privileged. The fact that this film is getting a global launch and happens to be a vehicle acting as the launchpad for several star kids seems to be what is bothering people the most.
It is no secret that mainstream Bollywood cares little about diverse casting, mostly relying on big stars for their massy films.
The Archies features Mihir Ahuja, Aditi “DOT.” Saigal, Khushi Kapoor, Suhana Khan, Yuvraj Menda, Agastya Nanda, and Vedang Raina. The casting of newcomers Kapoor, Khan, and Nanda has created the most stir in the media because they are all star kids from illustrious filmy backgrounds with legacies that go back decades.
While no one doubts Akhtar’s capability to bring the beloved Archies characters to life in a desi setting—after all, she has directed multiple well-made hit stories—a vocal section of modern Bollywood fans have an issue with the egregiously biased treatment Bollywood doles out to star kids, blatantly favouring them over other talents who struggle to breakthrough in the industry due to lack of familial connections.