Love Movie

The Archies

It’s hard to imagine an American comic book movie that’s as proudly naïve and nostalgic as the fizzy Bollywood musical “The Archies,” which relocates the happy stock characters of “Archie” comics to a fantasy version of mid-‘60s India. It’s harder still to imagine another achingly sincere and light-hearted comic book adaptation that doesn’t also slavishly reproduce its source material’s simple graphic design. Thankfully, “The Archies” succeeds by not overthinking its very existence.

“The Archies” takes place in the fictional Northern Indian town of Riverdale, which was modeled after “hill station” villages like McCluskieganj and Landour. This movie’s version of Riverdale was established by Sir John Riverdale in 1914 and has become a symbol of post-Independence India for its affluent, hormonal Anglo-Indian residents.

Riverdale’s kids sing, dance, and court each other in all the innocent ways that you might remember from the original “Archie” comics. They worry about who Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda) will end up cuffing, rich girl Veronica (Suhana Khan) or soulful wallflower Betty (Khushi Kapoor), and rally to save Riverdale from encroaching modernization (i.e. a hotel). Who does Archie really like, and will he ultimately move to London, despite the mild protests of his poor dad Fred (Suhaas Ahuja)? The answers may surprise you, even if they’re also very unimportant.

Riverdale’s kids sing about how “everything is politics,” but the lukewarm topics of discussion that they raise—“Can girls wear mini-skirts and gad-about,” and, “Are co-ed schools allowed?”—aren’t even tangential concerns for Archie and his pals. Rather, he and his friends learn, gradually and through sturdy, but unoriginal set pieces, that there’s more to life than mango milkshakes and British Invasion-inspired pop music. “The Archies” celebrates its protagonists’ character-defining youth by letting them be cute, doofy, and mostly self-absorbed.

Is that enough, one might wonder, especially given how a song like “Everything is Politics” plays out in a movie that’s only vaguely about its period setting? Mostly, yeah. There’s an infectious simplicity, both in terms of song and dance choreography and filmmaking, that makes a lack of fussiness seem more like a virtue than a shortcoming. There’s also something to be said for a movie that doesn’t pathologize wispy supporting characters like Jughead (Mihir Ahuja) or Moose (Rudra Mahuvarkar), but rather treats their sketchy nature as a virtue instead of a problem that must be solved. Khan’s the clear standout among a generally strong ensemble cast, but she’s great for the same reason that they’re (mostly) very good—because their characters are as basic as they are ready to wear.

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