Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Yogita Bihani, Harshvardhan Kapoor
In Vikramaditya Motwane’s Netflix film AK vs AK, the new Bollywood holds the old Bollywood hostage. It pits Anil Kapoor, the actor, against Anurag Kashyap, the filmmaker. Written by Avinash Sampath, the film has everyone playing themselves with cameos from Harshvardhan Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja. Even actor Yogita Bihani plays Yogita, a film student.
A talk show between the filmmaker and the actor goes awry and we are soon given a satirised lowdown of the coverage of the aftermath. Kashyap is condemned and exiled from the industry – equivalents of which he’s experienced in reality to varying degrees. (“Kashyap has been demonetised”, someone says). Only AK vs AK doesn’t differentiate between reel and real. That’s Kashyap. That’s Kapoor. The independent maverick-turned-industry insider. The legendary actor who’s probably mouthed jhakaas more often than he’s said ma. Kashyap pretends to be the actor and comes up with a plan to get back at the star. Or rather his apprentice Yogita does, to film a reality show as cinema, after kidnapping Sonam and making her father find his daughter before sunrise.
True to form, there are several shots of Versova, the self-made hub of Hindi independent cinema, sometimes even used as a collective term to represent everyone that came along with and after Kashyap. Motwane belongs to the club and as a larger exercise, AK vs AK makes for an intriguing study of their dysphoria in replacing this dominion, like the Kapoor family soaked in the history of Hindi film industry from the days of Prithviraj Kapoor, with a world they could create from scratch – something they’ve achieved over the years. At this time of push back against Bollywood, AK vs AK is a thought experiment filmed in real time, or at least offering an illusion of the same. In AK vs AK, the privileged industry insider is brought down on all fours, as he is forced to hustle again. It takes the actor across Mumbai to its original studio locations away from the gentrified outer city. Bombay Central, Grant Road and Byculla in addition to the current suburbs of glitz – his palatial bungalow in Juhu or Kashyap’s own apartment in Versova and Goregaon.
AK vs AK plays on the eternal image of Kapoor, reminiscent of his many films from the mid-80s to early 90s, where revenge makes the entire plot structure. And the film flips that narrative with an outsider (not anymore but let’s go with it for now) filmmaker taking revenge on a star who wouldn’t give him an inch of respect. Kapoor is even reduced to the fate of the roles the women in those 80s films – like Mohini or Seema, he must dance in front of a raucous crowd to get to Sonam as soon as he can.
In some ways, AK vs AK is anti-Ugly, Kashyap’s 2014 film, with the kidnapping of a daughter as its central plot while it outlines the depravity of the adults around the child. Here, too, there are chases, someone is hit by a car during a chase and another person grows tired in the middle of a chase a la Black Friday. In this film, it is a clash between hegemonic industry veterans and a face representing the new entrants, those without forefathers in the cine world laying bare the depravity of a nepotistic world. The promotions and inside jokes might suggest that the art is going against the commercial, but the film is self-aware enough not to make this pretentious point. It understands that Kashyap wrote sabka badla lega tera Faizal, not far from the zip code of 80s revenge saga or the 70s Bachchan films.
Motwane finds his moments. In Bhavesh Joshi, he had Harshvardhan in a bike chase that takes him to railway stations with the bike taking a ride on the train at one point. Motwane makes Kapoor go after someone on a train and this stretch is nerve-racking, not because of the chase but for the huffing and puffing that Bihani does as she carries the camera and runs after Kapoor, who is running after a suspect.
The director and the actor-director make enough jokes about the industry and to their credit, can laugh at themselves too. A visibly high Harshvardhan takes a swipe at Motwane for his sophomore film. Playing himself, Harshvardhan somehow comes off as even more disagreeable on screen. We are shown right off the bat that Kashyap is sleeping with Bihani, whom he introduced to Kapoor as a film student. Disturbing and problematic? Yes. Too real and unsurprising in an incestuous industry? Also, yes.
Motwane seems trapped in these small scale, gimmicky experiments that aren’t unrewarding but makes one long for the ambitious scope of his first two films. Running about 108 minutes, AK vs AK still feels longer than it should be, some of the scenes stretching to make a point. It’s tempting to read into lines like “Versova mere plan mein nahin tha sir” or “script hijack kar liya” or even “read the script” shoving bound pages at the actor. But the littler moments stand out – like when a taxi driver asks Kapoor for his Rolex in exchange for information. Kapoor pauses for a moment before handing it over, as if his name and privilege is worth more than his daughter’s life.
Motwane and Sampath end on an ambiguous note too. Is it even possible to dislodge an authority established over decades?
AK vs AK is streaming on Netflix.
The AK vs AK review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.