“Axone” is a film cleverly disguised to address racial discrimination that the people of Northeast face in mainland Indian cities. Instead it turns out that it appeases and pacifies mainland Indians who are racists in their attitude. The director of the movie, Nicholas Kharkongor, cunningly uses a plot which we all are familiar and would love to associate, take pride, hold dearly and fight for it – our struggle to cook our own food in a place we don’t belong. He successfully manages to exploit the emotional baggage we carry for our food. We are made to believe the very act of cooking and eating our own food as a privilege. Even I was thrown out of my rented home in Krishna Nagar, Safdurjung, Delhi in 2013, December for cooking bamboo-shoot pork.
The movie is highly preachy; it teaches us how to save ourselves instead of confronting the racial injustice meted out to us – if you don’t want to get racially abused/discriminated, integrate yourself (read surrender) to the larger nation, make a lot of mainland friends, even if you get thrashed in broad daylight, get sexually harassed in public or even if they spit on you for that matter.
The movie is problematic in many layers. It begins with stereotype and casual racism only to end with stereotypes and casual racism again. The assertive usage of Hindi among the Northeastern characters can be seen as a ploy to comfort the mainlanders. We don’t communicate in Hindi among ourselves. When people from different community/state gather, we speak in English. However, communicating in Hindi may hold true for Assam and Arunachal, but none of the characters were from Assam or Arunachal. The movie weakens our fight against racial discrimination with dialogues like:
A – “We have a right to cook our own food.”
B – “and they have a right NOT to suffer the smell of our food, now whose right is more right?”
A – “You guys don’t think you are Indians?
B – “Sorry bro.”
And, the cringiest, politically incorrect and appeasing line of all, by Chanbi, a Manipuri girl – “all these years you have not made one single friend from here, how sad is that? you said you want to go back to the Northeast but you have made your own Northeast here, you only interact with people from the Northeast, some of them might have problem with us but most of them are nice to us and that is the reason you and I were living here” to his boyfriend, Bendang, from Nagaland who is going through a mental trauma after being thrashed at Lajpat Nagar, Delhi.
Instead of addressing deep structural racial discrimination against which Northeast people face daily, the movie deals superficially on casual racism, which we have got so used to and have grown thick-skinned about. It further dilutes our fight against racism, painting the negative differences among the Northeast communities/states with unnecessary brushstrokes which in their remotest sense do not contribute to the narrative of the movie. We do have problems and differences among ourselves but we have always stood up together as one, leaving behind our differences for the greater cause – to fight against mainland racial discrimination. Same old divide and rule policy.
I am force to read the movie as just a ticket, for this group of insensitive artists to beg for a space in Bollywood by selling themselves and their people, without an iota of self-integrity and upholding their own identity. It’s totally A – OK and fine to sell yourself, but not your own people. We don’t belong there and we don’t have a space in the mainland narrative nor in Bollywood. Even if we are required, we will be replaced by another mainland, just like Priyanka Chopra walking away as Mary Kom. If lucky enough, we may get stereotyped side roles like a waiter or stewardess, sex worker, transgender, an employee in salon/parlor, a Chinese fast food guy, militants, a random sports person.
Moral of the movie – Even if mainland brown Indian thrash you and abuse you racially sing them back a Hindi song with a GUITAR.
The writer is a research scholar at the Department of Film studies, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. Area of interest are popular culture, folk culture, region-nation, migration and diaspora. Has a post graduate degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. Food, Culture and outdoor activities enthusiast