No doubt, Vikramaditya Motwane’s AK vs AK, streaming on Netflix, is a one of a kind film. And one has to admit even if bordering on the megalomaniacal, it is gutsy and ballsy even as it ‘blurs’ reality and fiction, the reel and the real. Kudos to Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap, the two real life AKs, who sportingly not only ‘play’ themselves but are also game enough to play their selves with all their worst flaws, yet, nevertheless, are able to laugh at themselves and humiliate themselves as they bare themselves in from of the camera in a reel story. However, despite its many moments, the film bites off more than it can chew as it tries to do and say too much, finally ending as an extremely interesting experiment that works in many of its bits and parts but sadly, falls short of ‘being there’.
We enter the ‘meta-cinematic’ arena of AK vs AK as a participant of a masterclass that has been organized by the ‘MAMI’ festival featuring Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap. The film kicks into gear almost immediately as barely five minutes into the film, as the QnA is in progress, someone in the audience raises the query who is more important – an actor or a director in the overall scheme of making a film? The AKs have their own response to the question where each (naturally) tries to outweigh their respective department. While this argument ends physically with a stung and humiliated Anurag giving Anil a facial with his glass of water, it continues as a thematic quest throughout the narrative flow of the film. It works as a medium of creation on one level and also deconstructs the viewer’s innate experience of engaging with an art form on another. The design of the film sharply comments on the frequent conventions found in Hindi mainstream filmmaking, its clichés, tropes and archetypes. In an implied manner, it also breaks down the genre of the thriller and utilizes the audience’s built-in familiarity with cinematic similitudes.
As Kashyap is ostracized by the film industry for his action, a young film school graduate Yogita (Yogita Bihani), Kashyap’s AD and girlfriend, who has been capturing the entire in a ‘cinéma vérité ‘style, suggests her boss retaliate against Kapoor. Kashyap does so , kidnapping the actor’s daughter, Sonam (Sonam Kapoor) and daring the actor to find her before sunrise, before her time runs out. This on Kapoor’s birthday! As Kapoor tries to comprehend what is happening and begins his frantic quest for his daughter, Kashyap has Yogita film this search in a documentary style thereby combining a reality show occurring in real time with a fiction film unfolding in front of us. While the film sets up its exposition perfectly, it starts to lose steam and stumble around the half-way mark. And while it picks itself up for its grand finale, one has to say that it remains a reasonably satisfying experience at best at the end of it all.
In keeping with its vérité approach, the film is shot entirely handheld and most of the scenes are long uninterrupted takes, which go well with the flow of the film. We are never flies on the wall but intrusively enter Kapoor’s car, the Dindoshi Police Station, the hotel where Sonam was to be part of a fashion show, residential spaces of individuals, railway stations, deserted mills, etc. While doing so, the filmmaker makes sure that we remain with the characters and actively participate in their arduous journey. Though as the film begins to lose momentum script wise, so does our engagement at times with Anil Kapoor’s dire situation. The editing, though, has to be commended for giving us a seamless flow of the reality show unfolding before us. It expertly reduces a few hours events into a 100 odd minutes running time in a manner that we don’t miss anything of this show but are active participants throughout the entire journey.
Performance-wise the film rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its two central characters. Anil Kapoor showcases his acting skills perfectly as he portrays the superstar brought crashing down to earth with much elan and more importantly, total conviction. He is able to contrast his narcissistic side as a film star with a more human one as the father in him takes over to find and rescue his daughter. When he is forced to break into a dance (‘like a performing monkey’ he admits) to the request of a crowd literally after having encountered a near fatal accident, it highlights his vulnerability and also humanizes him somewhat. Anurag Kashyap, in his portrayal of the arrogant filmmaker with an ugly side, enacts his role with much honesty creating some truly manic moments but standing up to Kapoor is ultimately too tall a task. In a surprising cameo. Harshvardhan Kapoor, keeps to the spirit of he film, as he while giving us some comic relief, makes a dig at his floundering cinematic career even as Motwane, behind the camera, doesn’t spare himself too.
But despite all such creative attributes, the film finally fails to totally reach its intended objective of narrating a gripping tale of self-obsession, revenge, and manipulation. The climax of the film, though, is a reasonably well-thought out twist but lacks the wow factor as it plays out. And once the twist comes, one can guess who is behind it far too early perhaps. The in-joke film industry barbs though vicious, biting, witty and often below the belt, do not really contribute much to the overall plot and seem more as indulgent insertions. The long fight scene between Kapoor and Kashyap at the former’s posh house goes against the grain of the narrative flow at the time while the scenes involving his brother, Boney, don’t work either. The sequence involving Kapoor chasing taxi driver, Javed, for a clue to Sonam’s whereabouts, too, goes on and on and… yes, on.
No doubt, AK vs AK will be remembered as one of the bravest and boldest experimental attempts done within the domain of mainstream Hindi filmmaking even if it admittedly appeared more exciting probably as a concept rather than its final execution. However, one thing is sure. Thanks to the advent of the streaming platforms in India, such an effort has been possible. Thanks to them, here’s to watching many more such innovative films in the future.
Hindi, Thriller, Drama, Black Comedy