Director – Nicholas Harkongor
Distribution – Sayani Gupta, Lin Liashram, Vinay Pathak, Dolly Ahlouwaliya, Tenzin Dalha
Aksone, pronounced ahuni, is a particularly spicy ingredient used in Naga cuisine. In the first scene of Aksone’s film, our characters acquire part of it for a special pork dish that they want to prepare for their best friend who is getting married.
The film tells the story of a day in the life of a group of 20 people who have to jump over one obstacle after another in their kitchen. All day long they have to deal with fanatical neighbours, an unshakeable gas bottle and interpersonal drama.
Look at Aksone’s trailer here.
When her noisy aunt from Punjabi Chanbi (a girl from Manipuri, played by Lin Layshram) and her best friend in Nepal, Upanne (played by Sayani Gupta), forbid her to cook at home, the girls are forced to order narrow kitchens and deserted public spaces, always at the mercy of others. Old wounds are reopened and new ones inflicted, such as Chanbi and Danger, together with a local boy, Shiv, who runs against the clock to get the job done. He goes from house to house and meets colourful characters played by actors such as Vinai Pathak and Dolly Ahluwalia.
Axone is a small film with big ideas, skillfully staged and interpreted with sensitivity. By identifying themselves as the Northeast – a collective term used to limit millions of people – the numbers form a kind of alliance that resembles a survival mechanism rather than a conscious choice. This is the title they were given, the title they accepted. And that’s a tragedy.
After graduating from a relatively multicultural school, I was a little shocked when I entered the University of Delhi. Thirteen years of ignorance from one caste to another and of the deep differences between our peoples have left me unprepared for the wild ride that life in YOU would be.
At any moment it was possible to see groups of children, all belonging to the same culture without exception. The Tamils invigorated with other Tamils, the Bengalis had intensive conversations with each other under the same tree, and Northern Easter always ate with other Northerners. It was a strange world for a child whose first group of friends was a Malian, half Bengali and, like director Nicholas Harkongor, Hashi.
The same children from the northeast who met at university and were not interested in communicating with others, moved to areas of the capital that were specifically reserved for their people. Take, for example, the village of Humayunpur, which is located in the heart of one of the richest districts of southern Delhi. It is often referred to as the northeastern outpost of the capital, full of Chinese and Tibetan restaurants and filled with young people – some fresh, some exhausted – who came to the big city to dream of a better life. That’s where Akson’s staying.
Sayani Gupta and Tenzin Dalha in an Akson cell.
But in the long run, Delhi can surpass everyone’s dreams. Especially if you’re a foreigner. Many settlements such as Humayunpur are scattered throughout the city – Luxmi Nagar is known as Mini-Bihar, Chittaranjan Park is a place where thousands of Bengalis live and Punjabi Bagh, as the name suggests, is home to the Punjabis. Don’t force me to establish religious segregation.
The truth is that no matter how much we pretend to believe in the cultural diversity of our country, we are a people where the people on the streets where they were born can be proud and oppose those they were not.
And Aksone, the movie, we treat it softer than we deserve. Despite the fact that the film is on the verge of random racism almost every hour – it begins with a rather painful public confrontation – almost none of the characters seem to blame his executioner; they have become almost invulnerable to him. At one point, a character has experienced the unthinkable cries in the arms of his girlfriend and says: I hate this town. And you understand why.
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The film doesn’t have to dramatize its social commentary, but sees the enormous hardships these characters have to endure to celebrate a happy event, enough to make you reconsider the essence of the film. You constantly make them feel at home, until they’re almost second-class citizens – imagine forcing them to ask permission for something as simple as cooking at home.
Harhongor’s mastery of perspective is particularly impressive given the general nature of the film. He moves easily from one character to another, sometimes in seconds, and only passes on the right amount of information about them. In this respect, Aksone almost resembles Richard Linklater’s film – minimalist, complete and lively. And with the exception of a few tonal scenes, the performance of his young company is excellent. These people feel like real people, they don’t have incredible ambitions and they don’t get involved in too dramatic a story.
All Danger wants is to calm down, and all Chanbi wants is a little respect – the respect she will eventually discover is something she will find hard to find in Delhi. But conviviality, however difficult it may be, is certainly not impossible to discover.
Author Twitters @RohanNaahar