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  • Khushi Mundhwa

Rediscovering Riverdale: The Archies Journey From Comic to Screen

The Archies: The Movie

Remember the days when you could wake up late, on a crisp, bright sunny summer morning? Without a care about homework and school, you would rush out to play the minute you had some yummy food in your stomach. If you’re a 90s kid, you’d surely relate. Those were the days of the famous comics, where the magic bubbling potion was brewed by the local village druid, the wizardry of Getafix that made Asterix 10 times stronger, and Tintin putting on his long coat with Snowy at his heels! As a child, the colourful and adventurous worlds that comics sketched for us were a way to escape into the land of our dreams.

One such comic, famous among the 90s kids, was The Archies. Set in the fictional town of Riverdale, the story follows the life of Archie, a clumsy yet fun small town boy. Archie is given a diverse group of friends, including the eccentric yet popular Jughead Jones, the intelligent and top-performing student Betty Cooper, the privileged and charming Veronica Lodge and the arrogant athlete Reggie Mantle. Riverdale, their hometown, is portrayed as an idealised version of small-town America—a self-contained suburban space that seems to be frozen in time.

These were the kids that hung out over frothy milkshakes, juicy hamburgers and a bunch of fries at the famous Pop Tates. With the manicured lawns, huge sprawling bungalows, wide scenic roads, one of the cardinal plots of the comic is saving Green Park from destruction by the kids most famously known as The Archies. Another compelling subplot is the swoon-worthy love triangle between the hero Archie, goody two shoes Betty and the spoiled dark-haired and pretty heiress Veronica.

Zoya Akhtar, a self-proclaimed fan of the Archies comics, recently made a film adaptation of it. With Reema Kagti as a producer and Akhtar directing it, the film was released under the Tiger Baby Films banner as a Netflix Original. The Archies premiered at the 54th International Film Festival of India on 22 November 2023, and was released on Netflix on 7 December 2023. It stars Agastya Nanda as Archibald “Archie” Andrews, Suhana Khan as Veronica “Ronnie” Lodge, Khushi Kapoor as Elizabeth “Betty” Cooper, Vedang Raina as Reginald "Reggie" Mantle, Mihir Ahuja as Jughead Jones, Aditi "DOT" Saigal as Ethel Muggs and Yuvraj Menda as Dilton Doiley.

Alyy Khan as Hiram Lodge, Veronica's father, Luke Kenny as Ricky Mantle, Reggie's father, Vinay Pathak as H. Dawson have given some outstanding performances as supporting characters.

Set in the fictional Anglo-Indian community of Riverdale in 1964 India, Archie, Betty, Ronnie, Reggie, Jughead, Ethel, Dilton, Moose, and Midge fight to save the historic "Green Park," which is slated for destruction.

The film however received a bag of mixed reviews. As per critics the relatability of the film was somewhere lost in the poshness, superficial beauty and perfection that the makers attempted to attribute to the bygone era of the 60s. However, some find it an exquisite path down the memory lane, filled with nostalgia and sweet memories.

The Plot

The plot of The Archies follows the lives of 7 school friends Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, Ethel and Dilton as they manoeuvre their lives in the picturesque town of Riverdale. They navigate through the paths of love, friendships and self-understanding while also taking into their hands the future of Green Park.

Mr. Hiram Lodge, an unabashed capitalist and the father of Veronica, is poised to construct an expansive complex comprising plazas and new hotels right in the heart of Green Park. Unfazed by concerns over deforestation, the loss of greenery, and the disappearance of open spaces, Mr. Lodge's sole focus, almost literally, is on the lucrative prospects that this location promises. With dollar signs gleaming in his eyes, he envisions colossal profits.

In a clandestine meeting with Mr. Dawson (portrayed by Vinay Pathak), a member of the local council, Mr. Lodge divulges his ambitious plans for Riverdale. Despite being aware of the formidable challenges ahead, Mr. Dawson, in a commitment to the cause, pledges to secure as many votes as possible from the residents of Riverdale in favour of the development project.

The story begins with John Riverdale leasing land in 1914, where children annually planted trees in Green Park. The town, with its Anglo-Indian community, embraced tradition even after India regained independence. Dawson aims to secure votes for a hotel construction motion, backed by Mr. Lodge's election campaign funding. The plan threatens local heritage, targeting established businesses.

He knows that, by hook or by crook, he would have to lure in the council members to do as they want. The residents are totally unaware of this plan to destroy a place that is no less than a local heritage. However, before the construction of the hotel, Hiram had planned to make a plaza where Pam's salon, Suzie's flower shop, and Hal's bookshop were located. He contacts the owners of the places, who in turn give notice to their tenants to close their shops or match the amount of rent that Mr. Lodge was going to charge.

Veronica, Archie's best friend, hosts a party, revealing tension within the group. Betty's father faces closure due to Lodge's plans, sparking conflict between Betty and Veronica. The love triangle with Archie intensifies during a vacation, causing rifts. Betty struggles with Archie's actions but eventually confronts Veronica, leading to a resolution.

Archie's initial goal of studying abroad shifts when he learns about Green Park's impending destruction. He realises that the grass is not greener on the side, but only greener where it is watered. Motivated by loyalty, he decides to stay and oppose Lodge's plans. The group uncovers a hidden clause requiring resident signatures to halt construction. Amid challenges, including an insider leak, they rally the town to vote against the hotel. Reggie writes an article against the council proposal, but Ricky, Reggie’s father, refuses to print it since Hiram Lodge is the biggest advertiser in the Gazette newspaper and without that money, the paper would not survive.

Mr. Dawson tries his best to prevent the teenagers from getting the signatures, but Archie and his friends are relentless. The gang even suspects Veronica to be an insider, spilling all the secret plans of actions against the council to her dad. On the other hand, an innocent Veronica tearfully confronts her father about it, blaming him for the fight between her friends and her. However, her father does not seem to care about the sentiments of his daughter, instead goes on to say that the money that he earns is the only way she is able to enjoy her lavish lifestyle. That was a blow Veronica couldn’t deny, could she?

In the end, citizens rejected the construction, surprising Mr. Lodge. Although he was disappointed with the decision, he was proud of Veronica for showing determination and standing up for a cause she felt so strongly about. The conflict taught the group valuable lessons about environmental preservation and the limitations of wealth. The Archies realised that not everything can be bought with money. The story concludes with a positive outcome for Archie and his friends.

The Visually Pleasing Aesthetic

Zoya Akhtar as a director, went crazy with experimentation. With larger than life landscapes and interiors with chic little cafes, huge puffy polka-dotted skirts, and large sprawling mansions, Riverdale looks every bit like a scene pulled straight out of a glossy magazine, rather than a sweet little indianised town, considering that the film is an “Indian adaptation”.

In The Archies, it is not only the plot but also the art direction that has been made to accommodate a rich, elite and an urban-looking cast. The production designer has referenced old photographs post-independence and built the structures and sets from scratch which is truly commendable. There was just something too perfect about the exquisitely decorated cakes, delicious strawberry milkshakes, bicycle baskets filled with fresh flowers, and crisply ironed trousers. Despite the setting, it quickly becomes clear that while escapist, Riverdale is not immune to the cruelty of our actual lived reality, which shows up in the film in the form of corporate greed.

Serving us some piping hot polka dotted minis and floral-y puffed buses, the leading ladies of The Archies bring out their A-Game in fashion.

The Archies, set in the year 1964, however, overcompensates on the costumes, hair, make-up, shoes and other itsy-bitsy details, missing out on the elephant in the room which is that it is the budding youngsters’ acting debut. Although the story follows the lives of Anglo-Indians, the costumes and sets are pretty much americanised, including the cute diner Pop Tates. Having said that, creating the film’s aesthetic that resembles a “cottage-core vibe” according to critics, is a terrific feat that Akhtar and the team seem to have accomplished. Akhtar says that she wanted the film to feel fantastical,

“We wanted today’s kids to enter a world. We grew up in an India that was not liberalised. So, when we opened an Archie Comic [book], it transported us to a new world. And that is a feeling.”

For Poornamrita Singh, the film’s costume designer, the brief emphasised on customisation. “Everything had to be bespoke,” Akhtar envisioned. “Poornamrita even got jewellery and shoes made. It had to be a storybook ’60s”[sic].

When Veronica (Suhana Khan) returns from London, she tells her bestie Betty (Khushi Kapoor) how “the mini is all the rage in London”, hoping to scandalise the town with her appearance in a shimmery mini at the town ball.

Singh says of the character, “She has wealthy parents, and has access to all the latest. So, I gave her A-line skirts, shift dresses, and the iconic cylindrical Louis Vuitton bag from the 60s.”

In contrast, Betty’s look is more goody two-shoes. The classic straight A’s girl, with a sweet word for everyone. “She has collected clothes over time from her mother, inherited berets, knitted mittens, pinafores and polka dotted-dresses with puffed sleeves. She layers sweaters over flowy skirts for the girls, with crumpled details in hems and sleeves,” Singh adds.

Pearl earrings, kitten heels, headbands, bright Mary Jane shoes complete the style template for the girls. Singh adds she made Reggie (Raina) “James Dean-y” with tight jeans rolled up from the bottom and short leather jackets. Meanwhile, Nanda’s Archie is in high-waisted wide-legged pants and sweaters, complementing the boy-next-door persona. Singh adds that she researched about the style and fashion back during the times of the Anglo-Indians to develop a style statement from scratch, to make looks that are an elegant tribute to the era that The Archies toasts to.

Talking about the overly opulent aesthetic of the Netflix original, netizens admit that the excessive need that Netflix has to make their films visually pleasing, sometimes gives them the ick. There are no houses in The Archies, only huge lavish mansions with miles and miles of driveway. How is the working class supposed to relate to something so extravagant and out of touch?

The grass and trees of the historic Green Park are so well manicured and primmed to properness that it deprives the park of a rustic old look that one would essentially picture as an Anglo-Indian park. The movie itself is a very visually attractive picnic. From river-sides with foaming water and gingham chequered table cloths to cane picnic baskets and tiered cupcake caddies, The Archies has it all. Having shot some of the scenes in Ooty, Mauritius and Mumbai’s Royal Palms, the movie has an inexplicable Instagram reel-like quality to it.

Resonance With the Audience

The Archies, a cinematic endeavour, has sparked a myriad of responses within audiences and critics alike, striving to transport viewers down memory lane through the prism of the fictional town of Riverdale, the iconic Pop Tate's diner, and the timeless camaraderie emblematic of the classic comic book series. This movie meticulously places emphasis on set design and cinematography, rendering it a splendid launch pad not only for star kids such as Suhana Khan, Agastya Nanda and Khushi Kapoor but also for debutants like Vedang Raina, Aditi Saigal, Yuvraj Menda and Mihir Ahuja who are not a part of the film industry already. 

Although by popular belief the movie could've been redeemed by better acting, critics have lamented that the film's primary flaw lies in its predilection for featuring star kids from privileged film families. This has led some to assert that the film functions more as a launching platform for the offsprings of celebrities, raising questions about the opportunities afforded to them based on their illustrious backgrounds. Comparisons between the performances of "outsiders" like Vedang, Mihir, Aditi, and Yuvraj, who ostensibly shine in their roles, and the star kids, who may have had access to the world's best acting coaches, further fuel the debate surrounding nepotism within the industry.

While the supporting cast, composed of seasoned actors, demonstrates a calibre of performance that one would expect, the film's newcomers are viewed as having a considerable distance to traverse on their acting journey. The critique extends to aspects like dialogue delivery, humour, and the notable absence of impactful punchlines, all contributing to the collective discontent expressed by the masses.

The film's ambitious attempt to portray the lives of the post-independence Anglo-Indian community comes under scrutiny, particularly in its portrayal of the characters' proficiency of Hindi. Critics highlight the discrepancy between the community's historical linguistic fluency and the perceived inadequacies in the elite cast's Hindi-speaking abilities, further intensifying the audience's disconnect. There was a noticeable South Bombay accent in Khushi, Agastya and Suhana’s Hindi. Vedang, Aditi, Yuvraj and Mihir were the more relatable of the lot in terms of their language and speaking skills.

The Archies, to the surprise of the Indian audience, deviates from the conventional Bollywood formula, embracing a musical format reminiscent of Hollywood productions like La La Land, Mamma Mia! and West Side Story. This unconventional approach features a musical interlude every 15 minutes, resulting in an extensive 16-song album that attempts to cover a spectrum of emotions and situations. The departure from the typical masala film, complete with well-choreographed and energising dances, is met with mixed reactions from viewers.

One noteworthy aspect of criticism revolves around the dance routines and choreography, particularly those featuring the star kids. Viewers observe a lack of ease and expression in the more intricate dance sequences, with moments of visible unease as Suhana, Agastya, and Khushi endeavour to synchronise their steps while maintaining the pace. However, a notable exception to this is the roller skate number performed by the girls, which received high levels of applause and appreciation and also the upbeat, fast-paced number, Va Va Voom, with its energetic dance.

In a bid to provide a balanced perspective, some critics extend empathy towards the star kids, acknowledging the pressure and expectations inherent in being the daughter of renowned figures such as Shah Rukh Khan. The raw and novice status of these young actors is considered a valid reason to extend leniency, especially in evaluating dialogue delivery. Despite this consideration, the general consensus remains critical of the dialogues, which span from perceived lameness to banality, ultimately failing to evoke the desired emotional responses from the audience.

The film's visual aesthetics, portraying Riverdale with its cool colour palette, stand in stark contrast to the typical sights and sounds familiar to the Indian audience. Accustomed to the hustle, bustle and chaos of daily life, the serene and picturesque setting of Riverdale becomes a double-edged sword. While visually captivating, it becomes a distraction (a much needed one at that, we say) from the storyline, leaving the audience grappling to connect with the scenic but unfamiliar surroundings.

The core target audience for The Archies is identified as the children of the '90s, who grew up engrossed in the adventures of the classic Archie comics. While the beautifully crafted set design succeeds in holding the curiosity of this demographic, the film falls short in fully satisfying their expectations. The narrative, which attempts to infuse environmentalism into the plot by focusing on the imperative to “save Green Park and its trees,” is viewed by some as an overly preachy deviation from the more adventure-driven themes of the original comics. The attempt to elicit an emotional response from viewers towards the environmental cause is met with scepticism, with some questioning the depth of connection one can forge with trees on screen.

In essence, The Archies finds itself navigating through a landscape of diverse critiques, ranging from the portrayal of privilege and nepotism in the film industry to the creative choices of format, choreography and the film's attempt to infuse a socially relevant theme. It has stirred conversations and reflection within the audience, leaving the verdict on its success as a cultural touchstone in the hands of individual perspectives and preferences.

Another outburst that the film created among netizens was the ever-green debate on nepotism. Launching star kids such as Suhana, Agastya, Khushi cast an air of disdain in Zoya Akhtar’s way. It seemed to the masses that somehow, the roles were slotted on the basis of hierarchy rather than actual talent and skills. Some even couldn’t help but wonder if the movie would've been a tad better had Vedang Raina and Agastya Nanda switched roles. Working with directors and producers as big as Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti under a banner as renowned as Tiger Baby Films, is the exact kind of privilege that most skilled actors’ dreams are made of.

While reviewing the movie, a common point that came up was the silver spoon that these kids were born with. The viewers seem to find folly with the cast owing to the DNA cards that they were dealt.

However Zoya has some strong opinions as a rebuttal. In an interview with The Juggernaut, director Zoya Akhtar defended the entire discourse on nepotism surrounding the December 7 release. She said it is “banal”, adding that no one can tell her what to do with her own money at the end of the day.

In response to questions regarding the ongoing nepotism debate, Zoya Akhtar highlights a significant observation. She points out that The Archies poster featured seven young talents, yet it was the audience and media who chose to selectively focus on the three individuals with familial connections in the industry. According to Akhtar, this selective attention ignited the nepotism debate by not giving due recognition to the remaining four actors. Didn’t see the Uno Reverse coming, did you?

Watch the video to know more!

Akhtar expressed her understanding of the frustration and anger associated with the unequal access to opportunities. She emphasised the need for a broader conversation about ensuring equal access to education, job opportunities and other resources.

She adds a perspective on nepotism, clarifying that true nepotism occurs when public funds or external resources are utilised to favour friends and family. Akhtar contends that the ultimate determinant of an individual's success in the film industry lies with the audience. Whether a director or actor secures another job depends solely on the audience's choice to support or reject them. In essence, she highlights that the audience's preferences play a crucial role in shaping the trajectory of careers in the entertainment industry.

After films like Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dil Dhadakne Do and Gully Boy, with Zoya Akhtar at the helm of them all, one could not help but be a fly on the wall. Now adding The Archies to the list, all her films seem to have a touch of elitism to them. Although you can relate to the problems and the issues addressed in the films, you cannot help but be nothing but a fly on the wall. The films do not create a sense of oneness with its viewers, always maintaining a snobbish arm’s length.

What Followed?

The Archies endeavours to craft an enchanting realm nestled gracefully within the town of Riverdale. Guided by a group of seven 17-year-olds, the movie unfolds as they navigate the intricately woven tapestry of love, friendship, and responsibility on the brink of adulthood. Pedalling bicycles through the crisp lanes of a bustling yet tranquil town populated by amiable and sweet-tongued individuals appears to epitomise an idyllic teenage existence.

Balancing on the cusp between adulthood and childhood, the Archies gang confronts challenges that lead them down uncharted paths. Their quest to protect the cherished Green Park becomes a journey that not only solidifies their bond but also propels them towards personal growth. The resolution of the love triangle between Veronica, Betty and Archie unfolds without the anticipated catfights, as the emphasis on friendship triumphs over romantic entanglements. Reggie undergoes a transformative arc, shedding his snobbish demeanour as the heartwarming chemistry between him and the rebellious yet sweet Dilton unfolds. Another captivating love triangle could have emerged, featuring the enamoured Ethel, the clumsy Jughead, and his unwavering affection for delectable treats!

Archie, despite harbouring dreams of making London his home, experiences a change of heart upon learning of the troubles plaguing Riverdale. His loyalty to Green Park and his friends compels him to lead the rebellion against money-minded industrialists.

The movie's visually stunning 60s-inspired costumes, including lace frocks, floral designs, puffy blouses, striped trousers, rolled-up jeans, leather jackets, berets and classic Mary Janes evoke a nostalgic fashion parade. The vibrant diner Pop Tates, the food-laden picnic table, Veronica's opulent mansion and Ethel's quaint salon contribute to the mystical world drawn from the popular comic book. These elements coalesce to create a visually striking film that seamlessly blends retro aesthetics with a modern-yet-timeless vibe, transforming the bubblegum-inspired storybook visuals into a captivating real-life adaptation of the comic.

Filming commenced in March 2022, spanning locations in Ooty, Mumbai, and Mauritius, concluding in December 2022. As part of the promotional efforts, the cast dazzled the audience with a dance performance at the Tudum 2023 fan event in São Paulo, Brazil, on June 17, 2023. Character promos and posters were unveiled by Akhtar on Instagram between August and October 2023, building anticipation for the film. The Archies created a marketing sensation through collaborations with Starbucks, Maybelline, Sky Bags and Vistara to amplify the film's reach.

Starbucks unveiled a delightful lineup of character-themed drinks inspired by The Archies, including Archie’s Crunchy Red Hat Mocha Frappuccino, Veronica’s Toffee Nut Crunch Frappuccino, Betty’s Chestnut Mont Blanc Frappuccino and Jughead’s Gingerbread Frappuccino. These beverages captured the essence of the film, spreading holiday cheer with every sip.

Maybelline's collaboration with The Archies extended beyond makeup, offering a Limited Edition Pack featuring Fit Me Foundation, Colossal Bold Eyeliner, Mascara, 60s tinted Blush and more. The collection aimed to provide flawless skin while transporting consumers back to the glamour of the '60s.

Want to know more? Here's the video.

Skybags, renowned for its youth-centric appeal, partnered with The Archies to redefine backpack fashion. Their collection, inspired by the film's Gen Z focus, blended practicality with trendiness, ensuring each backpack carried a touch of the groovy '60s.

Watch the video to know more!

Vistara Airlines transformed travel into an adventure with a retro-themed flight, offering especially curated meals and immersive experiences at Manohar International Airport, echoing The Archies' vibes.

Watch the #FlightToRiverdale video to know more!

Netflix's innovative approach with The Archies goes beyond the screens, commendably seeping into our lives. The Archies, with a budget of 45 crores, got 2.2 Million or 22 Lakhs views with 5.2 Million hours viewed as per Netflix’s worldwide data in its opening weekend on Netflix in India.

What do you think about the movie? It is now streaming happily on Netflix:)


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