Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar grew up as fans of Archie Comics. “It was a window to the West in pre-liberalisation India,” Kagti told Scroll.in as Netflix announced the cast of the Hindi film adaptation of the iconic American comic book series.
Directed by Akhtar and co-written with Kagti, The Archies stars Agastya Nanda, Suhana Khan, Khushi Kapoor, Mihir Ahuja, Vedang Raina, Yuvraj Medna and singer-songwriter Aditi Saigal, who goes by the name Dot.
Archie Comics follow the exploits of the affable Archie Andrews, a student of the fictional Riverdale High School, and his schoolmates. Akhtar and Kagti have shifted the setting to an Indian hill station in the 1960s.
The love triangle between Archie, the rich and fashionable Veronica and girl-next-door Bettie has previously inspired the Karan Johar films Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Student of the Year.
“We are not dealing with characters who might be Veronica or Bettie but our Archies is a true adaptation of the comic,” Kagti said. Co-CEO of Archie Comics, Jon Goldwater, among the producers of Netflix’s Archie-based series Riverdale, is producing Akhtar’s film alongside Akhtar and Kagti’s company Tiger Baby Films and Graphic India.
“We hope to not just bring Archie to an Indian audience familiar with the comics but also make it relevant for younger people who may not have read the comics,” Kagti said.
Kagti and Akhtar have busy putting together other projects during the pandemic.
There’s the Rajasthan-set Amazon Prime Video series Dahaad, starring Sonakshi Sinha, Vijay Varma, Gulshan Devaiah and Sohum Shah. Kagti has co-directed the series with Island City writer-director Ruchika Oberoi. Its themes include “society and violence against women”, Kagti said.
There’s the second installment of the wedding planner-themed series Made in Heaven. “The attempt is to top season one,” Kagti noted.
Also in the pipeline is the buddy-travel flick Jee Le Zara, which marks Farhan Akhtar’s return to direction after more than a decade. The film, starring Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt and Katrina Kaif, revolves around “the importance of sisterhood”, Kagti said.
Kagti, who made her directorial debut with Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd in 2007, has been sharing writing credits with Akhtar since Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011).
There are three stages to the writing process, Kagti said. “The first stage has us researching, talking, discussing what we like. We meet people, read and watch things. The themes come up. We develop the idea. After that we write one line for each scene so that we have a map before writing the script.”
After this collaboration, the duo “de-link”, Kagti said, adding, “Most of the time, I start writing the script and send it to Zoya. She layers them, brings out the themes prominently, develops the characters. The scripts go back and forth till we are ready.”
Their writing has been lauded for, among other things, sensitive male characters, such as Murad (Ranveer Singh) in Gully Boy, Sunny (Farhan Akhtar) in Dil Dhadakne Do and Karan (Arjun Mathur) in Made in Heaven.
Do men and women write men differently?
“I don’t think so,” Kagti said. “Of course, men and women are wired differently, but good writers write good men and women and bad writers write bad men and women. Having said that, I feel sometimes in scripts by men, the women are not as developed as the men or they just exist to take the script forward or help with the motivations of the male characters.”
It’s “reductionist” to slot filmmakers on the basis of their gender, Kagti added. “I feel it’s wrong to say that male directors are not as sensitive or cannot bring out emotions. I think we would be better served if we divide filmmakers into capable or incapable.”
Among Kagti’s films as a director is the crime thriller Talaash (2012), in which Aamir Khan plays a police officer haunted by the death of his young son. His investigation into an actor’s death veers into supernatural territory. Despite box-office success, the film’s plotting drew mixed reactions.
“A lot of people had a problem with the supernatural element,” Kagti said. “I don’t believe in ghosts. For me, it [the ghost in Talaash] was a metaphor for the unknown, as in when you are locked in grief or are having personal problems, you need to open your mind to different dimensions to find solutions.”