Watching a new generation of Bollywood kids making their debut in this Netflix film, I couldn’t help but think of M, the girl from Mawprem who had opened up the world of Archie comics to me.

Sitting in front of the television with the wife and kids, watching Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies (2023) on Netflix, I visualised the characters popping out of a comic book onto the screen mounted on the wall before us: Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, Dilton, Ethel, Moose, Midge, Cheryl, Hot Dog, Pop Tate, Mr Weatherbee, Mr Lodge, Miss Grundy… 

The imaginary Riverdale was thousands of kilometres away from the hill city of Shillong where the pre-teen me was reading his first Archie comic, transported to a world where I was perhaps imagining myself as Archie Andrews. Shillong had its hills, two lakes, streams and numerous waterfalls while Riverdale had them all and more: mountains, plains, rivers, beaches and also deserts.

While Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies appeared to drag on, the comics were something else for me. It was a window for me to a different world of teenagers on the other side of the world. This was just before the Indian economy was liberalised and the ads in the comics enticed us to products that we hadn’t even imagined. 

And the comics themselves, back then, were a little expensive, though not as much as the ones that I was pondering about buying at the Crossword store below my workplace a couple of days ago. Coming from a background of limited resources, I really couldn’t afford buying the comics (except for an occasional one). That’s where M came in. She was a friend and a neighbour of my age. Her father and my father worked in the same Government of India office. However, her father was in a more senior position and therefore their family was relatively well off. This, sort of, explained the relative abundance of comics in her possession. M also had a younger sister, younger to her by a couple of years. Let’s call her J. I and J never really went along. But M, with her comics, was something else. And she lent them to me without hesitation and I devoured them all in no time and would be knocking at her door the very next day for the next set. Her mother, though, didn’t appear to appreciate my frequent visits.

We moved out of that locality of Lower Mawprem at the edge of Shillong, more than 30 years ago, following a fresh round of anti-Bengali riots in the city to the relative safety of a different locality in another part of the city. Ever since, I had lost touch with M. And because I couldn’t recall her first name, as we only referred to each other by our nicknames, I couldn’t trace her when social media came about. 

Now watching a new generation of Bollywood kids making their debut in this Netflix film, I couldn’t help but think of M, the girl from Bishop Falls Road in Lower Mawprem who had opened up the world of Archies for me. And also wondering where she would be now? Will she also be watching The Archies and thinking of Rintu, that awkward boy who borrowed her Archie comics?

Besides bringing back some fond memories from my younger years, the movie didn’t achieve much for me. It was a little too slow for my liking. Agastya Nanda fits nicely into the Archie role and Suhana Khan, for some reason, kept on reminding me of Pooja Bedi from Jo Jeeta Wahi SIkandar (1992), that had some Archie comics inspiration. Varsha, my wife, thinks that Vedang Raina, who plays Reggie, has a promising future ahead. 

I missed Archie’s jalopy in the movie and it was nice to see old colleague Jamie (James) Alter playing Mike Gomes, a member of the Riverdale local council who helps Archie and his friends. I had expected Boman Irani to play the toupee wearing principal of Riverdale High Mr Weatherbee. Maybe it’s just a Three Idiots (2009), Mein Hoon Na (2004) and Bhootnath (2008) hangover. Koel Purie was a surprise for me as Betty’s mother Alice Cooper, even though she has acted before.

Obviously, it was a little too much for me to expect, for Zoya Akhtar to be able to pack in the best of decades of my Archie comics memories into a 2 hour 23 minute movie.Making the cast Anglo-Indian and placing the story in the 1960s was a nice touch. 

And before I go, let me ask you a popular Archie related quiz question from back in the day. How is Forsythe Pendleton Jones III better known as?

As the lovable, ever hungry and ever so gynophobic Jughead.