Migrant lives matter in the Naga-Indian dramedy “Axone,” a tale of what a minority community goes through just to pull off a last minute wedding, and party, In New Dehli.
They’re young people who have come to the big city from “The Northeast,” Nagaland. One of their number, Minam, is marrying quickly to fulfill her dying grandmother’s last wish.
But if you’re from Nagaland and living in Dehli, there’s an awful lot of crap you’ve got to put up with. Sexist comments on the street, racist wisecracks when you dress for the big party.
“Is it Jackie Chan’s birthday?”
The insults come in English, a shared tongue, or Hindi.
Even children have absorbed this. “Can you see the entire wall with those tiny eyes?”
And the cultural gulf is at its widest when it comes to cuisine. Whatever the aromatic virtues of Indian cooking, Naga food is world famous for it’s…fragrance.
Writer director Nicholas Kharkongor sets this up in the tense opening scene. Streetwise Zorem (Tenzing Dalha) sneaks Upasana (Sayani Gupta) and Chanbi (Lin Laishram) up an alley where a fellow countryman has what we might assume is drugs, but is actually the Naga version of “the good stuff.” He sells meats, herbs and ingredients for the one dish no Naga wedding party should be without — “Axone,” which literally translates as “really smelly.” It’s a soybean dish that stinks so bad even the Naga acknowledge it.
“We have a right to cook our food!”
“And they have a right not to SMELL our cooking!”
Much of “Axone,” a tale which unfolds in a single day, concerns the bride’s two best friends, Upasana and Chanbi, trying to clear their Indian-owned apartment building, by hook or by crook, so they can cook there.
The granny (Dolly Ahluwalia) who owns the place isn’t having it — “There will be no bloody wedding or party in my house!” So “Granny, I swear we’re not cooking anything!” won’t fool her.
The grandson (Rohan Joshi) they all nickname “Hyper” is enlisted to help with the lies, but will only start the “The septic tank is being cleaned today” rumor if they agree to set him up “with a Northeastern girl.” Seeing the array of “Northeastern girls” (the location of Nagaland), we have to say — Yeah dude, we GET it.
Through the course of this chaotic day, the absent Minam stresses about the plans, and about her civil service exam (by phone) while those in her orbit move from one apartment, rental hall or kitchen to another, trying to cook this soy stink bomb and prep for her wedding.
There’s a lot of running, cursing and bickering, much of it coming from the put-upon Granny.
“If I curse you, you won’t even find a place in HELL!”
But there’s also racism, vulgar come-ons in the street, constant rebuffs in hunting for a place to cook or throw a party. Chanbi’s boyfriend, the musician Bendang (Lanuakum Ao), seems to have it the worst.
Gupta, Laishram, Dalha and the manic Joshi stand out in the cast, with Ahluwalia doing her loudest granny act, stealing every scene she’s in.
Kharkongor keeps “Axone” on its feet, as if he’s scared that if any of the scrambling stops, the viewer at home will get a whiff of what they’re trying to cook.
He sets this in a colorful world, where even squeals of girlish glee — “Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!” — can seem alien and yet universal, where the daily drudgery of crowded-city life would daunt many a Westerner.
Running out of cooking gas, struggling to mollify neighbors from many cultures, everybody forced to “get along” and yet not-quite-managing it, quarrels breaking out everywhere in a Tower of Babel of languages, cultures (Africans, Sikhs, Naga, Indians, Chinese) brought together in a place where young people move for better jobs and better lives.
You don’t have to speak the myriad tongues (many not translated) to follow the action, fall into the heedless forward momentum, to be outraged at the discrimination, and to be utterly charmed by this winner from the Subcontinent.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, profanity, a slap
Credits: Written and directed by Nicholas Kharkongor, dialogue by Ma Gaurav. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38