Vikramaditya Motwane’s fifth film is a feature-length goof, 108 minutes of mockumentary mixed with deliberately sloppy action and industry satire. Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap play versions of themselves that correspond to their actual filmographies and idiosyncrasies. Kashyap holds a grudge against the actor for not doing 'Allwyn Kalicharan' all those years ago (a film of that name was actually shelved), and rejects Kapoor’s offer to work together. Matters escalate at a public event, with the two exchanging verbal jabs and Kashyap throwing water in Kapoor’s face. When the fallout renders Kashyap a pariah in the industry, his assistant Yogita (Yogita Bihani) suggests a way to get back at Kapoor.
Here’s where things get weird. Kashyap’s plan is to kidnap Sonam Kapoor, Anil’s daughter, and then follow the actor with a camera as he tries to find her. The resulting film will be Kapoor’s first ‘real’ performance, he says. Kapoor obviously doesn’t believe him, but is then shown a video of Sonam held by masked men. And so he sets out on the Mumbai streets at night, Kashyap and cameraperson Yogita shadowing him. Since Kashyap has announced this guerilla-style project as his next film, everyone assumes Kapoor is in character. “This isn’t acting,” he tells the police chief. “It doesn’t feel like acting,” the man compliments him.
For AK vs AK to work, one has to, at some level, buy into this version of Kashyap actually kidnapping a star's daughter. I just couldn’t do that. For one, the Kashyap of the film is awfully close to the Kashyap of real life. Had there been some separation there, or had he been playing a Kashyap-like director, the suspension of disbelief would have been easier. It’s difficult to care about the fate of Sonam Kapoor or to feel sympathy for the increasingly frantic Anil if you’re not convinced she’s in danger.
It is, admittedly, fun to watch Kashyap and Kapoor trade insults. Motwane, working from a screenplay co-written with Avinash Sampath, with dialogue by Kashyap, proceeds at a manic clip. The trio race from police station to Boney Kapoor’s home to housing society musical programme, getting bloodier as night inches towards day and the hour of Sonam’s threatened death approaches. After a point, the plan starts to backfire on Kashyap, which is when the film ought to really kick in. It never did for me—and an 11th hour twist, though amusing, wasn't entirely unpredictable, and was reminiscent of the Japanese zom-com One Cut of the Dead.
As with all films about the inner workings of the film industry, there’s a ton of meta-referencing. Kapoor dances to ‘My Name Is Lakhan’. Kashyap is compared to Martin Scorsese’s pubic hair. Kapoor’s Dil Dhadakne Do is misremembered as “Dil Dhoondta Hai”. Kashyap describes their project as the “first realistic film with a superstar not directed by Shyam Benegal.” Much of the riffing is along the faultline of industry insiders versus outsiders: an in-joke of an in-joke, considering two of Kapoor's kids are actors. My favourite bit is when Harshvardhan Kapoor, Anil’s son and star of Motwane’s last film, is auditioning for Kashyap. As he’s leaving, he turns and says, “Motwane fucked me with Bhavesh.”
Anil Kapoor, to his credit, is along for the ride, and Motwane and Kashyap reserve the sharpest jabs for their own brand of cinema. Yet, it’s hard not to see AK vs AK as an after-hours idea, the kind that might seem revelatory at 3 in the morning after a few drinks. The one-line is irresistible—“Anurag Kashyap kidnaps Anil Kapoor’s daughter”—but it’s still sketch material. Blown up to feature-length, it plays like a grungy, scrappy vanity project.
AK vs AK is on Netflix.