Koimoi Recommends Axone: Us ignorant city dwellers have never really bothered exploring the life of migrants. North Eastern folks that have lived amid us for decades have not really found the acceptance they deserve. But to our collective shame, we treat them with an abundance of racism, and if that isn’t enough, isn’t eve-teasing them an easy target?
Today, on Komoi Recommends I recommend you Netflix’s Axone, which brought the North East to the centre of a film and educated at least me about my ignorance and lack of empathy for people who haven’t even completely got their right to live in the cities, that claim themselves to be liberal.
Director: Nicholas Kharkongor
Language: Hindi (with subtitles)
Available on: Netflix
Axone on Netflix is about a bunch of people hailing from the different parts of North-East India in Delhi and living their lives. A girl from the group is getting married, and the others want to surprise her by cooking pork with axone or akhuni (a strong-smelling ingredient used in Naga cuisine) for her. But will the society they live in let them is the mystery.
Ever thought you would have to plan a complete heist to cook your choice of food? No? What if it is the 20 other people judging your food and deciding you should not eat it? What looks like a day in the life of a bunch of North Eastern folks, is a satire at its depth that tells you how difficult it is to have the genes in a city that treats them like aliens. Writer-director Nicholas Kharkongor has lived enough in Delhi and away from home to replicate the chronicles they go through, just because they chose to migrate and get a better life.
In Axone, Kharkongor is setting up a metaphorical society in a building. He puts the landlord, the most powerful, on the base floor. Up on the rest, stay migrants from different states and countries. Upasana (Sayani Gupta) and Chanbi (Lin Laishram) live on the first floor and want to cook akhuni for their friend Minam who is getting married. They hatch a plan, and the smell makes it to the houses, and they almost throw up. Nicholas smartly makes this smell, the presence of the North Easterns and people rebelling against them the lack of acceptance.
It is the people from the building, deciding what these girls and their friends should eat. When they rebel, they are slut-shamed, and that’s the biggest & gross weapon the locals don’t even think twice before using. Axone makes its pount clear and loud. Migrants who help run the city have not been accepted. Leave aside acceptance, their food at one point in the film is compared to sewage, foul odour, and if that wasn’t enough, Dolly Ahluwalia, as the landlord calls it, “Gandi badbu wala khana”.
Ask yourself, how many times have you called someone chinki or Nepali or Chinese just because they appear a certain way? Have you ever regretted it? Well, that was you being racist all the time. Nicholas Kharkongor, with his team, has made Axone so that you could realise this one thing. To explain it further, he shows you the effect it has on them. Mental imbalance, panic trigger, lack of self-confidence and worse, hating the landscape that scars them for life.
The best part about the screenplay is the fact the Nicholas doesn’t end the film with high hopes and how ‘see the world around them is changing’. Instead, he changes nothing, because it hasn’t, and it won’t until we stop. The film ends on a happy note, but you know all these people in the frame are going to wake up the other day to the same fight. There is friendship, love, bonding, a cry for acceptance and on top of that a mirror for the privileged to see where they went wrong in treating the immigrants.
Every single person from the cast of Axone has given real performances. Be it Tenzing Dalha as Zorem running a shop for his community. Or Lanuakum Ao’s Bendang living his life in PTSD. They have seen it happen to people around them, heard stories and imagined what if it was them and spent days in that horror. Everything translates finely on screen. Sayani Gupta deserves a special mention to bring her childlike innocence to the screen. It is her character Upasana who emits hope in a set up that wants her & her likes to be doomed.
The film comes out on Netflix when the conversation around representation is rampant and deserves to be. It is the first time North East India is telling its story, and you must listen. There is a lot to take from it. A massive point everyone needs to learn. And empathy needs to be developed. Chanbi, in one scene, tells Bendang “You have created your own North East here.” Can’t we penetrate a bit for good and become one? Learn somethings and teach some, because education is never wasted.