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~ Cecil Thounaojam

Unlike Axone, the indigenous food, Axone (the film) is a mayang recipe specially made digestible for the mainlanders on the discourse of racism in India, with a pinch of salty apologism and a handful of bland tokens just enough to satiate the racist palate of the mainland. It attempts to dilute the issue of racism in India by neutralising moments highlighting racism against people from the northeast with either prejudice within northeast or an emotional moment for mayang tears or a “not all Indians are racist” pep talk. On top of that, for a movie with racism as its promotional talking point, it does not mention the word even for once. Calling the violence against people from the northeast as racism is important to highlight the institutional and systemic oppression and not equate it with certain prejudices or reactions to racism. Otherwise, it reduces racism to just mere misbehaviour of certain people towards others. It is necessary especially for such a film that juxtaposes everything in an “attempt to be unbiased” and tries to introduce “we are all racist” narrative.

The film highlights the racist violence that people from northeast face, to the extent of getting traumatized and living in constant fear. One can also see many faces that we identify with. It is thus bound to have a lot of us like and appreciate the film for bringing our faces and issues to “mainstream” light for the first time. After having no representation and depriving them of any recognition for so many years, it is possible that these marginalized people crave for even a little bit of attention and settle for even the least. However, it is necessary to understand what we are settling for and at what cost. Is an apologetic film with a misguided narrative on racism enough for the years of systemic racism? We need to look beyond the faces in the film; we need to understand what is being portrayed and which narrative is being propagated. The film has more layers that subtly or quite evidently push the agenda to dilute racism against people from northeast with gentle mudslinging.

First, let’s talk about the cast. Although eighty percent of the cast is people from the northeast (according to Nicholas Khargonkar), eighty percent of the screen time is occupied by a Tibetian, a Bengali, other mainland actors, and a Meitei. The rest of the northeast cast do not get proper screen time, some do not even get a screen name. Shiv’s girlfriend, a mayang, gets more screen time than some of the northeast casts. On the other hand, Adil Hussain, an Assamese Muslim, is projected as a mainland character, whose only purpose is to sit in front of a shop and observe. The irony is that a person from the northeast is portrayed as a mainland character in a film about racism in India, which is supposed to represent people from the northeast. The granny landlady, the mainland uncle and a mainland guy called Shiv get more defined roles and screen time than the rest of the northeast casts. Only in one scene, all the characters from the northeast get to speak one dialogue each, in the search for a place to cook Axone, just to show the diversity of northeast. Of all the issues highlighted in the film, it is also the least convincing one. Apart from Lin Laishram, most of the northeast casts are just mere props. None of them have any character or story or any significant contribution. The other two lead characters that get most of the screen time are Tenzin Dalha (a Tibetan) and Sayani Gupta (a Bengali) who plays the role of a Nepali. What’s more surprising is that while the rest of the northeast casts speak proper Hindi, she alone is made to have an accent. Are they compensating for the appropriation? Or is it an opportunity to showcase her talent and shine?

Also Read: Racists and their Apologists: The Quint with The Cast of Axone

Let’s talk about the most nonsensical part of the film – its storyline. It is filled with apologetic narratives with no confrontation of racism. With every point raised on racism, there is a digression, which many mainland racism-deniers use to run away from the point of conversation. When there is an episode addressing racism that Chanbi (played by Lin Laishram) faced, the film raises an issue of prejudice against Nepali in the northeast. Here it is about Upasana (played by Sayani Gupta), who gets a lot of focus and is discussed for a good amount of time, again and again. It is not to say that there are no prejudices within the northeast communities and should not be discussed, but the way it is done in the film is only to shift the focus from racism faced by the people from northeast in the mainland. Are they trying to suggest that out of hundreds of communities living in the northeast, some are in conflict with the Nepalis living there, so it is justified for the people including Nepalis to face racism in India? Or it is claiming that racism also exists in the northeast too and we should think about it. Not everything is racism, northeast’s relationship with the mainland is different from the relationship few communities have with Nepalis. These are apples and oranges. Not everything is racism; ethnic conflict, colourism and racism are all different. The film would have served the cause if the Bengali actor who played a Nepali was made to express how Bengalis treat Nepalis and Northeasterners. ‘Nepali’ is also a racist slur used against all people from the northeast. The film does not even address that. It portrays as if Nepalis are not victims of racism in India, but are victims in the northeast. In another instance, the mainland character Shiv constantly annoys and triggers Bendang, to which Bendang loses his mind and calls Shiv “Fucking Indian”. Instead of addressing the triggering and the trauma, the film spends some more screen time in displaying the emotion of Shiv for “being at the receiving end” of an act of resistance against racism. It’s like having all the empathy towards an Indian for being upset when called “mayang.” 

Another episode, also the worst, is the conversation about “not all Indians are racist.” This happens when Chanbi and Bendang have a conversation around his trauma. Instead of confronting racism and comforting him, Chanbi goes on victim blaming Bendang for not having Indian friends and only being with people from northeast. She even says that “all are not like this, most of them are nice,” which basically translates to “not all Indians are racist.” This ignores the history of the relationship between the region and the mainland. This fails to address the systemic racism that people from northeast face in India. She further imposes the racist idea that one can survive in these Indian spaces without getting racially attacked if we mingle with them and live at their mercy, just like how she has done. It is again victim blaming and also dismisses the whole point of living with fear coming to these spaces that are known for racial attacks, which have made people from northeast to only find safe spaces amongst their own. These narratives of mayang fragility are constantly used by mayang whenever confronted for their racism. In spite of it all, the film ends on a positive note where all of them, from the northeast, sing a hindi song that seems to help them cure the trauma caused by racism and live happily ever after, just like a Bollywood fairy tale. If anything that this act proves, it is reinforcing the misunderstanding that speaking Hindi and singing Hindi songs automatically makes us “Indian.” Along with this, there are various instances that assert Indiannes in order to be accepted and treated with dignity.

Also Read: Lin Laishram and Coronavirus in the time of Mayang Racism

This movie is a classic case of mayang fragility promotion. It is about how the racists are also humans and resistance to their racism makes them feel bad. So, we should understand that our resistance should not hurt the feelings of these racist mayangs because they can get hurt very easily. It is more hurtful for someone lower in the social hierarchy to raise their voice as compared to someone who is above us doing the same. All in all, the film is an apologist propaganda to diminish and dilute the issue of racism in India by bringing up the narrative that “we are all flawed” and “we all have prejudices against each other.” It succeeds in pleasing both those deprived of recognition and the perpetrator of racism in India. If one has to list out, there are more issues in this film than what is mentioned in the article. Finally, Axone, the film, is an insult to Axone, the indigenous food. While the former is palatable to the Indians, the latter is not.

12 thoughts on “Why Axone is Less About Confronting Racism and More About Comforting Racists”
  1. For once, just be happy that there’s one film that represents the region and like you said- 80 percent cast are from northeast. As for the issue being diluted and probably made for the mainstream audience, it’s quite logical don’t you think? Why are you so stuck up in life? Just be happy for the kind of responses that they film has received. It has had a successfully reception and thank god for Netflix, a lot of people were able to watch it. And I think we should just push for more films like these to be made rather than crib about one film not addressing something. Just chill

  2. Hey. How is it fair that you get to spew all your frustration about the film not including vital things in Axone and my comment disagreeing with your points get deleted? What’s the point of having a comment section? If you think your article raises valid points, you should also welcome opinion of others who have a completely different take about the film. I have not commented on the piece in detail even. frankly, it seems more like a rant than a movie review.
    try and delete this again.

  3. Hey. Thanks for the quick research on the articles with the same tone. Does it trump the kind of response the film has garnered?

  4. Welcome. I hope you understand why so many have issues with it.
    If you want to look at other reviews, I m sure you are more than capable of doing it yourself.
    Most of us like to understand the issue and look beyond the hype around the film. But, I understand if you believe otherwise.

  5. Yeah you’re right. I still disagree with people like you. You’ll complain either way.

  6. I watched the film back in October. Yeah, while it’s all applause and praises for a NE film to land on the mainstream platform like Netflix, as a film enthusiast, the film didn’t make any sense to me. It’s actually lazy am writing. The plot is illogical (all the pain and trouble to cook a Naga ethnic food for an Arunachali girl). The sub plots serve no purpose! Also just because we are from the NE doesn’t mean our group consists of every representative from every 8 states! That phone call scene where everyone is speaking in their vernacular to ask if they can cook Axone. That was really unnecessary. And, NOBODY buys Axone like it’s a contraband substance! In fact the streets of Humanyunpur fill the air with aroma of Axone, bamboo shoots and all possible fermented food!
    Cinematic freedom is one thing but confusing the already confused majority of the country with erratic narrative is a huge mistake of the film maker!

  7. People like you are the pole bearers of a xenophobic mindset, this is an apologist film made for the mainlanders to mollycoddle them by setting the people from the northeastern region as sorry, tortured panicky figures and urging them to set their behaviour right. “Not all Indians are racists” but their are enough to make a whole community of individuals feel insecure in their own country. So please don’t go around saying at least you got representation, it’s like saying at least women are allowed to go to schools and work.

  8. I am a mayang, a woke one if I say so myself( you may roll your eyes now). Wonderfully put, these are the exact concerns I have been talking about with friends. Apart from the technical aspects, the storyline is extremely loose and does not let any of the characters grow on you, if you Are trying to say that we are all the same and can live in peace and harmony at least make the characters relatable or do the exact opposite and shock. Make us feel something for them!! Adil was indeed a complete disappointment, he doesn’t even look like the Jaat uncles that sit on cots in these mini jaat villages in delhi. More to say but I am now seething because for once I had hoped and prayed that a film from the northeast region might bring a more interesting way of storytelling, it might be more zeitgeist but it unfortunately plays on all the cliches of Hindi cinema and killed the entire experience for me.

  9. Happy for misrepresenting us just because there’s one film? not an apologist mayang bootlicker like you. Yes, 80% northeast cast, but read completely, 80% SCREEN TIME FOR MAYANG. so you agree that the issue is diluted and is made for the convenience of mayang? and it’s “logical”. APOLOGIST MAYANG BOOTLICKER. You are stuck up in life with no integrity and stuck busy mayang bootlicking. Successful mayang reception is all you care? such a bootlicker craving for mayang approval. thanks to Netflix that we could see their mayang apologist bootlicking. responses from mayang, you mean. they will be obviously happy because of the bootlicking. not a fan of pushing more of such mayang bootlicking films. let your mayang bootlicker friends know about this.

  10. Listen, anyone thinks they can say just about anything these days- and crying foul is one of them- easiest

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