Reviews TV + Movies

The Archies: A Flawed Attempt At Queer Representation

The screen time for Dilton was as small as the target audience for this film. I can’t say if this was a bid to spotlight star kids or a symptom of lacklustre storytelling. Zoya, a storytelling virtuoso, could have wielded this opportunity to depict queerness with greater depth in such a highly anticipated film. Alas, that was not the path taken and we end up seeing Dilton turn into probably the most 2D character in the film.

White-washed nepo-babies against the scenic backdrop of Ooty, dressed like it’s a fall-winter campaign photoshoot; one look at the poster of The Archies, and we see how disconnected it is from the reality of an average Indian. The film’s poster, with its whitewashed aesthetics, surprises even avid Zoya Akhtar fans who are used to her films revolving around the lives of the rich. “How are they going to adapt an all-American comic for the Indian audience?” I asked myself, like many others across the nation. The Archies, a movie inspired by the eponymous American comics, tries hard to make itself relatable to the Anglo-Indian community (and nobody else). It attempts to explain its aesthetics by setting the film in the Anglo-Indian community of the 1960s. Alas! This seems like a lazy ruse to justify its preposterous script, or maybe it’s the other way around; who knows? There are multiple themes that this film fails to represent meaningfully and I, a queer filmmaker/writer, would like to bring into focus its flawed queer representation.

When I got to know that Yuvraj Menda, an openly queer person, had bagged the role of the shy and nerdy Dilton Doiley, I set my hopes for this film higher than I should have. I appreciate the filmmakers doing the bare minimum by choosing a queer actor for this role, but I think this is where my appreciation for representation ends.

The screen time for Dilton was as small as the target audience for this film. I can’t say if this was a bid to spotlight star kids or a symptom of lacklustre storytelling. Zoya, a storytelling virtuoso, could have wielded this opportunity to depict queerness with greater depth in such a highly anticipated film. Alas, that was not the path taken and we end up seeing Dilton turn into probably the most 2D character in the film. Dilton is reduced to one line: a very quirky-sounding “Thank you!” (with Betty and Veronica echoing the “thank you!”, which reminded me of straight girls who tokenize their gay best friends).

The only scene where Dilton is in the spotlight is when the gang is playing a game of “Truth and Dare” and our beloved character, in the most cliched manner, is almost forced to come out. I am so tired of this overused trope of using Truth and Dare to show a character is queer! Dilton’s “almost-coming-out” scene could have been presented artfully, but it ends up being one of the most uncomfortable scenes in an already awkward movie. The subsequent interaction with Reggie meant to portray acceptance, felt forced and lacking in depth. This scene could have easily shown the depth of Reggie and Dilton’s friendship, but the scene that we get is barely two lines.

What followed this scene was my frustration, as Dilton faded into the background, overshadowed by less compelling characters. With hopes of seeing more of Dilton and Reggie’s friendship (or maybe just an acknowledgment of what happened in the previous scene), I weathered the remaining minutes of the film. But all I got in return for my patience was Agasthya Nanda’s expressionless face, because this is where it ended for Dilton. I feel like I wasted 2.23 hours of my life in the hopes of seeing Dilton get the acceptance and spotlight he deserved. Sadly, Dilton turned out to be an accessory the script tries to adorn a progressive aesthetic.

As a queer physics geek (I hold a bachelor’s in physics), I really wanted to relate to Dilton’s character, but every time I tried doing that, I was reminded that this movie revolves around star-kids and heterosexual romance. Instead of feeling represented, I felt like a prop, akin to Dilton – someone showcased for their diversity. Sadly, I related more to Betty’s yearning and pining for Archie, and that just says how shallow and how accessorised Dilton’s queerness is in the film. The whitewashing, the lousy scripts, and the tokenistic approach to queer representation make me question if it is a Zoya Akhtar film. Did I expect this from Zoya? No. I hope that she reads this and gives some insight as to how she ended up with this blasphemy and fumbled such a good opportunity to showcase deep, heartwarming coming-of-age scenes like coming out. Nevertheless, I hope this critique sparks reflection and encourages future endeavours that genuinely embrace and elevate queer narratives.

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Kashish Sharma (she/they) is a Physics grad, who writes, sings, and writes the songs she sings. She is the author of "Haiku from the Heart" and has recieved the "Reader-Leader" award at Katha Utsav for her short stories. When she is not nerding out on string theory or strumming her guitar at unholy hours, she can be found having an existential crisis at your local beach.
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