‘AK vs AK’ movie review: A fascinating conceit that doesn’t quite achieve desired results

Starring Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap, AK vs AK has a pulpy premise and is outrageously funny, even though it doesn’t come together as a whole

Vikramaditya Motwane’s AK vs AK releases two weeks after David Fincher’s Mank and the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate. In Mank, we saw the fall of an alcoholic writer Herman Mankiewicz and, perhaps, the only time he refused to budge to power, to claim ownership to something that mattered to him the most. The film, based on Jack Fincher’s screenplay and partly inspired by Pauline Kael’s essay, raised a pertinent point about the authorship of one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane. But, in India, would such a question hold water? Do our movies actually have an authorship? If that were the case, who is bigger? Is it the filmmaker — and their singular vision to build the world from scratch — or, the star — who brings in the crowd and ensures their producers don’t go bankrupt…well, in most cases.

AK vs AK begins with a similar contemplation over who owns the show business. Or rather, who has control over the medium. And it isn’t an irony that such a contemplation occurs at a public event. Because, let’s admit: everything today is about the movies and not necessarily about the movies. The fascinating aspect of AK vs AK (written by Avinash Sampath) is the camera — which could be voyeuristic at times but also brings about an outsider’s gaze, depending on how you wish to see it — and the lens with which you look at the film that blurs the line between reality and fiction. The cinematographer inside AK vs AK is Yogita (herself), a documentary filmmaker who is making a documentary on India’s top directors and guess who tops the list…Anurag Kashyap (who comes across as more cocky and corny, making you wonder if Kashyap was playing Motwane’s version of Kashyap).

AK vs AK

  • Cast: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Yogita Bihani, Sonam K Ahuja and Harshvardhan Kapoor
  • Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
  • Storyline: As mortifying as it may sound, Anurag Kashyap kidnaps Sonam Kapoor to get back at Anil Kapoor for rejecting Allywn Kalicharan, and films the actor’s real-life search as a film.

Kashyap plays a narcissistic, self-absorbed version of Anurag Kashyap, whose arrogance as “India’s Tarantino” and the creator of “Wasseypur” consumes the artist, when Anil Kapoor (apparently an irrelevant star) approaches him for a film offer. Their egos get bruised when Anurag deems Kapoor “old and grandfather material”, and Kapoor, on his part, says, “Wasseypur would be reduced to half of its duration, if you remove the cuss words”, the assessment of which is partly true.

They have a verbal altercation that sets off a series of events: Kapoor inadvertently spills water on Kashyap’s shoes, and the latter splashes water on Kapoor’s face. The initial wonderment with which you revel in certain scenes, like the aftermath of the Kapoor-Kashyap clash with splashing headlines in newsrooms, resulting in Kashyap’s confidants Taapsee Pannu and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (“I made your career Nawaz bhai,” yells Kashyap on phone) distancing themselves from him, paints an ugly yet near-perfect picture of the film industry and journalism. But all of that gets worn out when the “serious” part kicks in…when Anurag Kashyap (or should we say Motwane?) has his revenge against the Kapoor kandhan (In a different context, there is a slide that reads: “No outsiders” and I laughed) and, in turn, against Bollywood. Sounds like a gossip columnist’s wet dream?

The opening act — about an arrogant director and a washed up superstar — has sparks flying. AK vs AK could have been Bollywood’s Ayyappanum Koshiyum. But the film doesn’t traverse the Ayyappanum Koshiyum way. It wants to do what Manesh Sharma did in Fan. It wants to be a meta film and that is where it settles for a not-bad attempt. Fan was a meta commentary, but Motwane’s film is too self-aware to be true.

AK vs AK is structured as a “serious” film and a black comedy. It is the film’s supposed serious moments — with real actors — that are the weakest. But its comedic portions are, for the most part, a riot — at one point, in the film’s most serious moment, Kashyap calls up a police officer who asks if he is the Kashyap who made ₹100 crore films, and he says, “Woh to mera bhai hai.”

Imagine this: a real-life actor has to put the pieces of a puzzle together, to find his real-life missing daughter. I know you are thinking of Taken and countless other films. But what would ideally be a cut to the next scene in Taken, forms the course of Kapoor’s 14-hour journey.

The film is shot in cinema verite fashion and the camera within the film doesn’t cut and often employs long shots; an unbroken shot of a long chase sequence is exquisitely pictured, reminding you of one in Bhavesh Joshi. The camera brings a certain closeness, certain “liveliness” to the setting. There’s also a self-realisation as to why you cannot be a hero in your story, especially if you are a reel hero and get treated like a commodity — Kapoor finds himself dancing to ‘My Name is Lakhan’ in a sea of crowd.

A huge shout out to Anil Kapoor for being a sport. He is so touching when he looks at a crowd cheering for him and says, “They still love me?” This is not easy for an actor, more so for a superstar, and that comes from a great place of confidence. Kashyap, not so much, for he must have gotten used to the potshots (“You use second-hand shoes bought by Karan Johar. Your films bomb at the box office.”) and Bombay Velvet.

Cinema is the willing desire to suspend disbelief when the lights go out. But what makes our cinema ours is the unwillingness to suspend disbelief. Which is why when Shah Rukh Khan played Aryan Khan and his creepy fan, Gaurav Chandna, in arguably his best performance in the last decade, somewhere we knew it was the real-life Shah Rukh Khan hiding inside Aryan Khan. We knew SRK was standing bare chested, exposing his insecurities and vulnerabilities that come as baggages with superstardom. That he was communicating to his fans without actually communicating. It felt personal.

In a promotional interview, Vikramaditya Motwane wondered out aloud if Fan would have made more sense had SRK played himself. No, it wouldn’t have. And that’s where AK vs AK gets it meat and that’s the biggest damper. It is an irony that in a film that involves real names, real figures, real places and real memories, you would want to suspend disbelief and see it with an objective lens.

Which is why when Kapoor gets a call from Anand Ahuja (Sonam’s husband) or the fact that AK vs AK takes place on Anil Kapoor’s birthday (and getting released on his birthday), or the fact that it involves Harshvardhan Kapoor accusing Motwane of “screwing” his career — which, by the way, is a scream — you do get a sense of plasticity in this make-believe world. Which is why you realise that Anurag Kashyap and Anil Kapoor are not real and are not their real selves, and are playing Motwane’s characters to demonstrate the film’s reality.

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