Zoya Akhtar on The Archies: ‘It’s about time we have our own girls’ club’

The story in The Archies, which releases on Netflix on December 7, unfolds with a gentle rhythm. Was that determined by the storybook feel that you wanted to capture?

Every story has its own rhythm and tempo. You should let that narrative organically lead one to shoot a film and construct it in a certain way. I wanted to create the experience of stepping into another world since that was my experience when I read Archies comics. It transported me somewhere. I want the viewers to have a similar experience. How you design the film, what the world is and how you shoot it, are determined by that idea. We wanted the classic big frame of the comic. The movies of the ’50s and ’60s went for these classic shots. It was also a period when everything was slow and people were patient.

9/track_1x1.jpg" data-lazy-src="https://data.indianexpress.com/election2019/track_1x1.jpg" alt="" width="1px" height="1px" "/>

How challenging was the storyline and plot since Archies comics used to be episodic?

The challenge was to take this episodic form and build a narrative while retaining the nostalgia for us, the original Archies readers. At the same time, thematically, it needed to resonate with people today. Even if they don’t know about Archies, they should still connect with the story. It took about two months to write the script and then we kept working on it.

How did you zero in on the idea of youngsters becoming eco-warriors?

Festive offer

In our films, we write what matters to us and the audience. Right now, if you talk to GenZ, the environment is a major concern to them. It just fit perfectly – that generation and talking about their concerns in this idyllic world soaked in nostalgia. Archies comics feature a lot of greenery. So, it came together very well.

The Archies A still from The Archies.

How long was the casting process considering there are seven newcomers?

When you are casting iconic characters that people have read about, loved and known for decades, you can’t pick just anyone. I didn’t want to go with established names because they already have an image. Since the characters – Archie, Betty and Veronica, Dilton, Reggie – have their distinct image, we needed actors to fill that image. The casting was tough, but it worked out.

Did you apprehend chatter over the casting of relatives of stars?

I am a filmmaker. My job is to do what’s best for the film.

How was the experience of working with young actors?

The difference is you have to prep more in case of young actors. So that by the time they are on the sets, they are completely comfortable. Besides that, the level of trust you have to build, the bond you have to develop or the process of co-creating something remains the same.

Is it an emotional moment for you now that these young actors whom you groomed are now going to have their first release?

I am excited and happy for them. I am genuinely amazed at their dedication and talent. The world is their oyster.

Your movies always have good music. What’s your relationship with music?

I have no musical talent at all but I love music. I listen to all kinds of music. The music for The Archies is created by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Ankur Tewari and Dot (Aditi Saigal), too, have worked on it. For me, scoring the album as well as working the background music are some of the favourite parts of movie-making. As a director, I spell out the mood and texture that I want for that particular song. Obviously, I also decide what I want to say in a song.

The song Life ki har baat mein hai politics… has the friends of Archies gently nudging him to take a stand.

The idea behind is that Archies (essayed by Agastya Nanda) doesn’t think politics got anything to do with his life and that’s not really true. You have to be aware. You have to care.

The movie celebrates female bonding by taking competition out of the friendship that Veronica and Betty share.

It’s about time you stop showing women fighting with each other and, instead, have our own girls’ club. That was important. They are friends. If friends have each other’s back, life works out better. There is a lot more awareness and conversation about it (female bonding) since women have become independent and leading their own lives. Slowly, it will change and reflect in art too.

It’s interesting to see Javed Akhtar share lyrics credit with Dot for some of the songs.

That was because of the tone of the songs – be it Dishoom Dishoom or Playing You. The songs are in Hindi but we needed certain lines in English. Since Dot was writing Betty’s diary, I got her to write the lyrics in English. So they collaborated.

What was the idea behind setting the story of The Archies in a vibrant Anglo-Indian community?

First of all, we had to retain the original names and essence of the comic. The feel of that culture could only come from the Christian community. But we didn’t want to set it in Goa as it’s quite developed now and it would have been an expensive proposition. So, we had to move somewhere. A hill station seemed like a better idea. Since the Anglo-Indian community had not been featured on the screen for a long time, the idea also seemed fresh.

You have mentioned that you want to widen Tiger Baby’s reach and find a larger international audience. Do you have a strategy for that?

I just plan to keep telling stories. We are at a stage when the world is getting smaller. We have an American IP (intellectual property) like Archies that’s making its first feature film in India. If you keep working and do it well, people are going to watch it. It is nice to have stories from India go out.

Any particular genre you will be drawn to?

I am looking actively for a gangster film. I am very very drawn to that genre and I am looking for a story that works.

In 2023, you had two major series and a movie release. Are you looking for a balance between movies and web-series?

I like to tell stories. Whatever is exciting for me, I will make. But what I am looking for in terms of balance is a break. The year has been hectic and I need some time off.