AK vs AK movie review: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap are a perfect match for this genre-bending slugfest
With AK vs AK on Netflix India, director Vikramaditya Motwane shows once again why he defies definition and slotting.
castAnil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Yogita Bihani, Harshvardhan Kapoor; Cameos: Sonam Kapoor And Boney Kapoor
There’s a point in Vikramaditya Motwane’s AK vs AK when movie star Anil Kapoor’s real-life son, an aspiring film actor himself, enters the picture. Harshvardhan Kapoor is delighted that Dad is accompanied by writer-director-producer Anurag Kashyap, and is determined to get the man’s attention. He likes Kashyap, unlike that Motwane who screwed him over with Bhavesh Joshi, he says.
The reference here is to the 2018 Hindi film Bhavesh Joshi Superhero directed by Motwane, co-produced and co-written by Kashyap – it was the junior Kapoor’s second film and happens to also be his second film to go under. Since most of the world did not see Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and since it was poorly publicised, chances are many viewers will miss the mention and its meaning. That does not matter though, because it is a fleeting sentence, a hoot for those who do understand; and for those who do not follow Bollywood closely, Harshvardhan’s anxious-to-the-point-of-being-desperate-to-please-Kashyap-and-pique-his-interest tone and actions are amusing enough to make that scene enjoyable.
This then is what AK vs AK is: a smart balancing act filled with inside jokes about the Hindi film industry aka Bollywood devised with the very evident understanding that it will have differing layers and nuances for industry members, viewers who are committed to following industry news, journalists on the beat and the general public.
Kapoor, Kashyap, Kapoor’s star daughter Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, his producer brother Boney Kapoor and Harshvardhan play themselves here in a fictionalised setting. Hugely funny at first because of how believable the two AKs’ exploits seem on screen, it gradually turns into a grave and intriguing suspense thriller, lagging somewhat in the latter half, but engaging till the end all the same.
AK vs AK defies categorisation, which in itself is a victory. It is not a reality show, but is designed to resemble reality.
Unlike Peter Weir’s Hollywood classic, The Truman Show, in which the protagonist was unaware that he was the central character in a reality programme, here Kapoor Senior knows that he is being filmed as he frantically searches for Sonam who has been kidnapped by Kashyap with the intention of making a film covering the search in real time. The reason for Kashyap’s egregious behaviour is the long-running tension between them ever since Kapoor rejected a couple of his scripts in earlier years, culminating in a public spat in the present.
A mockumentary then? Perhaps, though of course however much the AKs want to convince us that they are playing themselves in the film, clearly they would not want us to think that Kashyap is capable of any of the shocking things he does here.
Make no mistake about this: despite the appearance of soul-baring, AK vs AK does not reveal a thing about Kapoor and Kashyap that is not already either widely gossiped about or known as a fact, nor does it feature an appearance by a single family member who is fiercely private. For instance, Kapoor’s producer daughter Rhea is nowhere around, and his wife is mentioned but does not make an appearance.
So yes, AK vs AK did require all the players involved to be sporting about the swipes aimed at them in Avinash Sampath’s intelligent script, but it is more guarded and measured than it lets on.
In fact, one reason why AK vs AK hits the nail on the head is because it does not for a second veer away from matching the narrative to aspects of Kapoor and Kashyap’s personal lives, nature and character that are already known/revealed to the public, ensuring that the two stay true to character, so to speak, even in the moments before the story takes off. In the run-up to AK vs AK’s release, when the promotions team released a clip from the film in which Kapoor, wearing an Indian Air Force (IAF) uniform, lets off a volley of colourful language, the IAF had publicly and imperiously objected to it. Kapoor immediately issued an apology video, and it is Kapoor who gives a video disclaimer preceding AK vs AK’s opening scene – point to be noted: Kapoor, not Kashyap. Read: Kapoor, who has never been known to oppose the establishment, not the reputedly anti-establishment Kashyap. Clever (although this does bring up the discomfiting question of whether the IAF was in on the film’s marketing).
So yes, AK vs AK is fun. The camerawork, production design and editing are excellent fits for this genre-bending ‘realistic’ drama that is constructed to look rough around the edges. And the acting is impeccable.
Kapoor’s wonderfully immersive performance as Anil Kapoor (hehe) is all the proof needed that this star actor is getting better with each passing year. The story shifts away from Kashyap longer than it should have, but when he is around, which is most of the time, his convincing turn as an off-kilter creative person begs the question: why does he not act more, and in larger roles than the ones he has mostly confined himself to so far?
Harshvardhan throws himself into his part with such enthusiasm that I laughed during his big effort to impress Kashyap. Hopefully this young actor will find his groove and better scripts in future than Mirzya, with which he debuted.
As for Motwane, coming as this film does after Udaan, Lootera and Sacred Games, he shows us once again that – like AK vs AK – he defies definition and slotting.
AK vs AK is packed with jibes at the industry – including the long-running accusation of nepotism – but is not condescending. It is self-referential but not self-indulgent. Although it seems focused on the two AKs, it quietly makes a point or two about the film industry and about the Mumbai that is their home, in which a Javed celebrating Christmas surprises an upper-class observer but seems like the most natural thing in the world to people of his socio-economic class.
Several Hindi films over the decades have been set in the Hindi film industry, but none like this. In interviews, the team has revealed that Shahid Kapoor was initially cast as Kashyap’s co-lead but had date issues, which is when Anil Kapoor took over. This was fortuitous. Shahid is a fine talent, but it makes sense that the actor in the script should be a veteran who has nothing to lose by investing in a wild experiment and is secure enough to take a crazy, bizarre risk – whether I am referring here to Anil Kapoor the real-life actor or Anil Kapoor who is a character in this film is for you to decide. Either way, AK vs AK is unusual, fun although it dips, breezy despite the grimness that takes over as it rolls along, and such an unexpected Christmas gift from Bollywood.
AK vs AK is streaming on Netflix India.
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The genius of AK vs AK lies in its ability to have a whole lot of fun while holding the film industry to task.