The Archies review – Riverdale goes to India for goofy lessons in capitalism

<span>Photograph: Manpreet Singh/Netflix</span>
Photograph: Manpreet Singh/Netflix

One could be cynical and see this transposition of the Riverdale narrative universe into an Indian setting as just another exercise in brand colonialism, pasteurising youth culture one country at a time with deadly doses of emulsifying intellectual property. Or one could just chillax and dance along to the formidably catchy songs, performed with zip by the peppy and exceedingly well choreographed cast. While one is grooving along, it’s worth noting that every so often the film-makers have smuggled in a quietly subversive thought, such as in the song Everything Is Politics which argues, pace Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, that there is no position outside the ideological apparatus. It’s that very dualism which makes this goofy musical fascinating, a guilt-free pleasure that’s nevertheless super-corny and ridiculous.

Like the American Archie comics on which this is based, the story here takes place in a mythical town called Riverdale – except this Riverdale was founded in northern India by Anglo-Indians, as explained in an opening animated sequence. After independence, the residents of Riverdale planted trees in the names of their children to commemorate their newfound freedom and hope for the future, creating the municipal space Green Park in the centre of town. But, in the 1964 of the film, the now-teenage kids like rock’n’roll and miniskirts, they consider going abroad for university and are blithely unaware that things are changing in less savoury ways. Local oligarch Mr Lodge (Alyy Khan), father of high-school rich girl Veronica (Suhana Khan), has plans to develop the Green Park and plonk a grand hotel in the middle of it.

This will affect the residents in different ways. For example, a landlord decides to close the bookshop where Hal (Satyajit Sharma), the father of Veronica’s best friend Betty (Khushi Kapoor), is the manager, putting Hal out of a job unless he accepts a position with a more profit-centric book chain. Meanwhile, teen heartthrob Archie Andrews (Agastya Nanda), clearly working on a sex and love addiction that will trouble him in later life, thinks his biggest problem in life is trying to decide whether he fancies Veronica or Betty more. The aforementioned songs explaining that Everything Is Politics put him right on that score, but the kids still have to gather enough signatures to overturn the city council’s decision to allow the rezoning of Green Park.

That plot summary might make this sound much more like an episode of the darkish North American-set Archie-spinoff TV series Riverdale. But all of the above unfolds in a place that is very much recognisable as a version of rural India of the period: people speak a mashup of Hindi and English, older women wear saris, and Bollywood is the dominant cultural touchstone in the dance numbers, even when everyone is wearing rollerskates. The whole shebang is quite bizarre but sort of works, thanks to the brisk pacing of the editing and the joie de vivre that director Zoya Akhtar injects into the proceedings.

• The Archies is released on 7 December on Netflix