100 Days of Axone: A long overdue Hindi film about North-East Indians
Lin Laishram, lead actress of Axone, writes a heartfelt, cultural piece from the artist’s point of view on the representation of the North Eastern culture in mainstream Hindi film industry
So it’s been a hundred days of Axone on Netflix. What fun! Who would have thought that a film about such a niche, underrepresented community would gain such popularity? But then again, a Hindi language film about North East Indians was long overdue.
When you watch American shows and films today - you don’t bat an eyelid when you see an East Asian or South Asian face speaking with an American accent. You know they are Americans. In fact, they’re even making movies and shows with Indian American and Chinese American protagonists, which is amazing. Now, I'm guessing a huge population of Asians migrated to the US only after the second world war. And then there is India, where the North East has been a part of India since its very inception, and yet, we have never been a part of popular culture. Until Axone.
I am not here to lecture you on why the North East has been neglected (we rarely find mention in Indian history textbooks). I’m just here to share with you the joy of having a truly North Eastern film come out of the stables of the Hindi film industry.
The entire team of Axone has received countless messages of love. Many from places like Delhi and Bengaluru, where there is a huge North Eastern population. As one man from Delhi said, "I see North Easterners everywhere in the city - in the metro, on the roads, in restaurants and malls, but never once did I stop to think of what their lives must be. Maybe I thought they led ‘normal’ lives just like me and my friends. And then I saw Axone, and realised how different their reality is." A message like this makes me very happy. Because it is societal change at the most basic level. Because from now on, hopefully, our Delhi friend will see the North Eastern passersby in a slightly different light - one filled with some empathy. And it is stuff like this that makes the world a better place.
That’s the beauty of films. You can produce reams of data about a misunderstood community living on the fringes of society and it has little impact on people. But then, one tiny film gives you an hour’s peek into the lives of some maligned neighbours, over the course of a single day, and people get it like never before!
Nicholas, the director of our film, came to me about three years ago with the script. Having lived outside the North East for 25 years, it had been on his mind to make a North Eastern film forever. But it was only after having already made a film, that he felt he was in a position to attempt it. When he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, I said, of course! In fact, I said, “Listen, even if there is no role for me as an actor, I would still like to help make the film happen (he had no producer then).” But luckily for me, there was a part. And luckily for the film, there was a producer. Yoodlee Films was brave enough to take it on, although they knew something like this had no precedent and they were taking a big risk.
But in my head, I knew the film would work (I didn’t expect the kind of overwhelming critical appreciation we got; virtually all the reviews were positive!) because, even leaving aside the North Eastern angle, it is still a beautiful story about friendship and love. Friendship in the big city, especially when you are a migrant, was something that resonated with people all over the world. The scene towards the end, when my character informs her girlfriends that she wants to go back (that it has been ten years in Delhi, now it’s time to go home) resonated so strongly with a lot of people. I've had friends from New York to Chandigarh connecting with that call of home.
Axone’s success is not just about representing the North East. It’s also about stories that are authentic and well-told. India is such a diverse country. If Axone can represent the people from the North East, I am sure there are many more films about the multitude of underrepresented Indian communities waiting to be told.
Netflix and other streaming services are a major leveller. If Axone had released theatrically, it would have been tough for our tiny indie film to get prime-time shows. But, on Netflix, clicking on our film was just as easy as clicking on a big star-filled film. And click many did!
I look forward to seeing many more offbeat and non-mainstream films like Axone on streaming services. I also want to see mainstream films with North Eastern actors. It’s about time, Bollywood, please. And of course, more North Eastern films from Mumbai. Please, dear God, don't let Axone be a one-time hit.