Lost in Translation 457: The Archies (2023)

Archie Comics is the third of the Big Three comic publishers, joining Marvel and DC. Archie doesn’t have the flash that the other two have, but the comics have been around since 1939, with the first title being Blue Ribbon Comics. M.L.J. Magazines, as the publisher was originally called, first released superhero comics, trying to jump on the bandwagon created by Detective Comics. Archie first appeared in Pep Comics #22 in December 1941, alongside Jughead and Betty. Archie’s appearance was a backup story, with The Shield and The Hangman appearing on the cover.

However, Archie soon became the publisher’s headliner, leading to the company changing its name to Archie Comics in 1946. The cast expanded, adding the characters we still see today. Archie is still in a triangle with Betty and Veronica, unable to decide. Jughead prefers food over girls. Reggie is a prankster. Dilton is too nice to be a mad scientist. Along the way, the concept of slice of life humour in Riverdale expanded, adding in the supernatural with Sabrina, the Teen-Aged Witch. The superheroes never went away completely, but they did fade into the background.

The comic’s success came from appealing to a demographic similar to its characters. As cultural attitudes changed, so did Archie. During a period where DC Comics cancelled Batwoman from marrying her lesbian partner, Archie Comics introduced Kevin Keller, the publisher’s first gay character, in 2010, with him getting married two years later to the doctor who helped him after being wounded in Iraq. Jughead was specifically mentioned as asexual in 2016, though that was rolled back a year later. All the same, the character has been and still is coded as ace.

Speaking of Juggie, he is the only remaining character in fiction wearing a whoopie cap, a fad where teenagers took an old fedora, turned it inside out, cut the brim to make it scalloped, and added pins. The last two fictional characters to wear a whoopie cap were Goober Pyle, played by George Lindsey on The Andy Griffith Show, and a rapist played by Jeff Goldblum in the 1972 film, Death Wish. Jughead, first introduced in Pep #22, has worn the cap the longest.

Riverdale, the setting for most of the comics, is a cozy town with hangouts for teenagers like the Chock’lit Shoppe, a high school where the cast can mingle, regardless of wealth class. With Archie being set in the now, Riverdale changed incrementally much like Archie Comics. Where is Riverdale? That’s the question. Fans believe Riverdale is in upper New York State, using details from the comics such as Cheryl Blossom’s family being in the maple syrup business and a family coming from the north being from Montreal. Editorial isn’t helping, calling Riverdale “more of a state of mind than an actual physical location. It could be anywhere that kind people live and just have fun, like Archie and his friends. It could be in the Midwest, or along the Eastern Seaboard, or even a town in Canada, Mexico, or England.”

With editorial’s thoughts in mind, let’s look at The Archies, an Indian teen musical comedy directed by Zoya Akhtar. Produced in Hindi, the 2023 film is available in an English dub on Netflix and stars Agastya Nanda as Archie, Khushi Kapoor as Betty, Suhana Khan as Veronica, Mihir Ahuja as Jughead, Vedang Raina as Reggie, DOT. as Ethel, Santana Roach as Midge, Yuvraj as Dilton, Rudra Mahuvakar as Moose, Alyy Khan as Hiram Lodge, Suhaas Ahuja as Fred Andrews, and Asif Ali Beg as Smithers, the Lodges’ butler.

Riverside is transported to Northern India of 1964. Summer vacation is coming to an end. Betty rides around Riverdale on her bike, enjoying the weather. She hears that Veronica has returned home from holidays abroad and heads to the Lodges’ mansion to help her friend catch up on gossip, specifically, what is going on with Archie. Archie wound up dating serially while Veronica was absent.

All is not rosy for Riverdale. While Betty and Veronica catch up, Hiram Lodge is made an offer to renovate Riverdale’s downtown. The crown jewel of the project is a new hotel. Hermione Lodge doesn’t like the proposed location; she wants to put in where Green Park is. Green Park is an important place in the history of this Riverdale, where both the British and the local Indian population began a tradition of planting a tree for every child born. Hiram, nonetheless, agrees to the terms.

As a new school year begins, Archie is back to his old ways, unable to choose between Betty or Veronica. Adding to his decision paralysis, Archie is trying to decide whether to attend a university in Riverdale or one in London. Jughead tries to get Archie to make a decision, recognizing a bad situation for what it is. Archie panics and chooses Cheryl Blossom (Diya Gupta).

Jughead worries himself to a delusional song and dance number.

Betty is the first to find out about the plans to redo downtown Riverside when she overhears her father thinking about the loss of his bookstore. She spreads the word around to her friends. Reggie digs a little more and discovers the plans to replace Green Park He gives the full story written up to his father, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. The story gets spiked; the paper’s main advertiser is Lodge Enterprises and without that money, the newspaper will fold.

With Archie busy with Cheryl, his pals find a way to prevent the park’s destruction. They need to get a petition signed by over half the town’s adult population, everyone 18 years old or older. That leaves out Archie and his pals, but the can still try to get signatures. They try, but it’s a rough haul, resulting in just over a thousand signatures of the needed 4000-plus. They keep brainstorming.

Archie eventually finds out and if Betty and Veronica were a hard choice, staying or leaving Riverdale leaves him floundering. To try to clear his head, he takes a walk through Green Park to the tree that was planted when he was born. Seeing that he has roots in Riverdale helps with making a decision and he returns to his pals to make apologies and gets caught up on the problem at hand.

With a day before the deadline, the developers decide to get an early start. Archie and his pals expected this and barricaded the main gates, preventing the bulldozers from entering. With that one day, they hold a fair, exchanging goods and services for signatures. It’s a race against time, but Archie and his pals get what they need.

The main plot, save the park from developers, is there mostly to hang a narrative on so that the characters can shine. No one is watching an Archie movie for a complex plot. The draw is the characters, and relocating Riverdale means having the characters recognizable. Going from a predominantly white cast of characters to mostly Indian means translating cultural touchstones. The big one is Jughead’s hat. The whoopie cap, as described above, is mainly American. Given that India is part of the British Commonwealth and, in 1964, had been independent of Britain for seventeen years, a flat cap does fill the bill and makes Jughead stand out as much as his comic original.

In 1964, smoking wasn’t the cancerous taboo it is today. At the same time, The Archies was filmed in the 2020s. As a result, the villains of the story are the only ones who smoke cigarettes. The exception is Hiram Lodge, who smokes a pipe at the beginning of the film. The difference between Lodge and the developers is that he isn’t taking the events of the movie personally; it’s only business. He is proud of Veronica for what she did; separating his business loss from his personal life.

Casting needs to try to match as best as possible the characters and the actors. The Archies succeeds here, given the limitations of live action compared to the comic. Jughead, as discussed above, stands out with his hat and body language, mirroring his comic original. Betty has lighter hair and is first seen with a ponytail, though, like Betty in the comics, will wear her hair differently. Veronica matches her comic appearances; long, straight hair and expensive fashion. Dilton is the easiest to recognize, with his large, round glasses. Ethel is also recognizable, being taller and plainer in her appearance compared to Betty, Veronical, and Midge. Archie is the major character to get right; he doesn’t have the red hair, but his hair is short and curly, standing up with short sides. Archie also does get to wear his “R” sweater vest. The casting director succeeded, as did the makeup crew here.

Moving Riverdale to India meant adjusting the town’s history. The movie runs through the differences quickly, more to prepare the audience for changes. Being in India, Archie loses his jalopy. The driving age in India is 18 years old, so Archie and his pals are too young to drive. Bicycles, however, are common, and Betty has been known to ride one in the comics. With India gaining independence from Britain in 1964, Archie and his pals are too young to remember what it was like under British rule; their parents aren’t. The movie provides a bit of Indian history and civics for the audience, enough to establish the era without being overwhelming or throwing the story’s flow. The Riverside of the movie fits with editorial’s idea above; it’s a place where kind people live and want to have fun. The town is recognizable, with landmarks like Riverdale High and the Chock’lit Shoppe recognizable.

The little details help to confirm that the characters are Archie characters. Dilton has a pinup poster of Hedy Lamarr, not because of her appearance and acting work but because of her work with frequency hopping. The detail becomes relevant to the plot later, so the pinup is a bit of foreshadowing but well in character for Dilton.

Overall, The Archies doesn’t strive to be more than an Archie movie, but as an Archie movie, it excels. It translates the cultural markers over without problem. Archie is truly comics’ little black dress, going with everything, even other cultures.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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