Art & Entertainment

Zoya Akhtar On ‘The Archies’: We Took Themes That Matter To Gen Z And Mixed Them With Nostalgia

“The Archies” is rooted in reality but very dreamlike, says Zoya Akhtar, describing her new film on the much loved American comic series as a mix of nostalgia and themes that matter to the generation of today.

Zoya Akhtar

The Archies” is rooted in reality but very dreamlike, says Zoya Akhtar, describing her new film on the much loved American comic series as a mix of nostalgia and themes that matter to the generation of today.

“The Archies” is an Indian adaptation of the comic series set in the fictional town of Riverdale that the self-confessed fan grew up reading. It brings to life the cast of Archie, Veronica, Betty, Reggie, Dilton, Jughead and Big Ethel and places them in a 1960s hill town, very much in India but with Pop Tates and other fixtures intact.

"Fans want nostalgia, a walk down memory lane and familiarity, but the generation today, who have not read the comics, they need something that holds them to the story. We had to take themes that matter to Gen Z and mix it with nostalgia to cook the film together," Zoya told PTI in an interview.

“ ‘The Archies’ is rooted in reality but very dreamlike,” she said.

Since they had to keep the characters original to the comic book, the idea, according to the filmmaker, was to set it in the Anglo-Indian community. In her adaptation, the teens get together to save a park being destroyed to make way for a new building.

The director and her team pulled out references, met people from the community and requested them for old photographs to copy the style. They also travelled to Landour and Mccluskieganj, hill stations with colonial architecture, to replicate them for the movie that was finally shot in Ooty.

Despite being a fan of the Archies comics, Zoya said she was constantly on her toes while making the movie, slated to stream on Netflix from December 7.

"... It should be a new world that I have to create and I should be a little scared. When I am a little scared, I am on my toes. I love making films and shooting but when you have that little kick, 'how will I do this', then you stay alive," she said.

Zoya said she was not initially planning to direct the film, only produce and write it. But it became difficult to part with the project after Reema, Ayesha Devitre Dhillon and she wrote the screenplay.

"The minute you write something, you get invested. (But) I still called directors... some said they were not familiar with the world while another was busy with a young adult show... So the number of people I thought could do the film kept getting smaller.

"There were directors but I did not know what they would do with the project. I had a very clear vision on it and I was like, 'I'm not giving it'."

"The Archies" with its young cast is a complete change of gears for Zoya who last directed Ranveer Singh in "Gully Boy".

The film features a young cast of star kids -- Shah Rukh Khan's daughter Suhana Khan, Sridevi-Boney Kapoor's younger daughter Khushi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan's grandson Agastya Nanda as well as Mihir Ahuja, Vedang Raina, Yuvraj Menda and Aditi Saigal (Dot).

Asked about the perception that she chose Suhana, Khushi and Agastya because they come from film families, Zoya said, "Aise thode hee hota hai"(It does not happen like that).

Finding young actors for the film was a year-long process, she said, adding that they wanted a new cast that came without any baggage of past performance. And they, of course, had to be young, which "cut out a lot of actors".

"We tested everyone who wanted to act and some of them did not even want to become actors -- Agastya who became Archie, Dot who plays Ethel Muggs was a musician and Yuvraj who became Dilton Doily. Vedang was a model and musician who had not thought about acting.

"Suhana was training and studying acting, Khushi wanted to be an actor and I had already worked with Mihir in 'Made in Heaven 2'. Suhana and Khushi auditioned for both Betty and Veronica. Dot met me for music and I asked her to audition while we found Yuvraj on Instagram," Zoya said.

It is important to make entertaining stories, something that’s not just about comedy but engaging with the audience, said the filmmaker who this year has "Dahaad", "Made in Heaven 2" and now "The Archies" under her belt as producer and director.

All three, one more different than the other, are on OTT platforms. Looking back at the year that was, Zoya said the idea is to respect the platform she has been given by telling stories that matter.

“We are people that feel very grateful that the audience has given us a platform, the producers have given us a platform and we want to be a little conscious of what we put out in the world. We want to put some goodness out into the world."

Discussing the back-to-back successes from her banner Tiger Baby Films she founded with writer-director Reema Kagti, the filmmaker said it all comes from their love for good stories.

Both have collaborated on many movies as well. These include "Luck By Chance", "Dil Dhadakane Do", "Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobaara" and "Gully Boy".

Calling Steven Spielberg her favourite filmmaker, Zoya said you can’t survive if you don’t make entertaining stories.


"It doesn't always have to be comedy entertainment. 'Dahaad' is engaging which is why it is entertaining," she said about the Rajasthan-set drama that revolved around a cop investigating a series of deaths in public bathrooms. The series, directed by Kagti, was a critical and commercial hit.

The filmmaker said she likes to work with family and friends, be it Reema, Ritesh Sidhwani, brother Farhan Akhtar or father Javed Akhtar, as they give her a sense of "being home".

"I work so much... 12-14 hours a day. So when I am with friends, I don't feel like life is passing me by," she said.


Javed Akhtar, a noted screenplay writer and lyricist with some of the biggest hits of Hindi cinema under his belt, sometimes tries to convince her to follow him on certain aspects, and Zoya said she ends up listening to him sometimes.

Javed Akhtar has written the lyrics for "The Archies" and many of Zoya's past projects.

Describing their collaborative process, the filmmaker said, "He is like, 'Trust me, I have written so much. The experience counts for something and sometimes I do listen to him. Like the climax song... he goes 'Zoya, for once in your life, 'don't argue' and I let it go and whoever has seen the film, the focus group with which we tested the movie, they are reacting so well to the song.


"Even in 'Gully Boy', we had 'Sabka time ayega', and my father saw it and said, 'Make it 'Apna' and we were like why? He said, 'Apna time ayega' is owned more than 'Sabka time ayega'."