Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap
Writer: Avinash Sampath
Streaming On: Netflix
Part of the fun in watching AK vs AK is that it feels like you are eavesdropping on actual Bollywood conversations. Beyond the façade of artists gushing about each other on social media and the rehearsed camaraderie in interviews, lies this – jealousy, dislike, insecurity, desperation and pure, crazy hate. So in one scene, Anil Kapoor playing Anil Kapoor tells Anurag Kashyap who is playing Anurag Kashyap that he isn't an altu faltu chutiya. Anurag is the "chutiyon ka Ranveer Singh. Ekdum top." Which I think is a pretty fabulous insult. In another scene, Anurag pompously declares that he is the greatest. "Mere baad sab gobar hai." Both are deliciously awful people. But don't mistake this for the real thing. AK vs AK begins with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction.
Director Vikramaditya Motwane and writer Avinash Sampath construct a narrative that consistently crisscrosses the boundaries of artifice and truth. Scenes in the film are shot in Anurag's much-publicized DVD library in his home and in Anil's luxurious house. Anil's children Sonam and Harshvardhan play his children. Brother Boney Kapoor and Anil's trainer make an appearance. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has a voice cameo.
The film is constructed as a reality show. A film school is making a documentary called Best of Indian Cinema and the first episode is about Anurag. Yogita Bihani plays an aspiring director, also named Yogita who is trailing Anurag with a camera, capturing the film that we see. It's being shot as we watch. The long takes and handheld camera suggest cinema verité-style authenticity. But in this film within a film, there are layers and layers of deception. Like other meta movies, the experience is like walking through a hall of mirrors. Vikram reinforces this by capturing characters reflected in mirrors. Especially Yogita, who also has a credit for additional cinematography. This is a movie that constantly reminds you that you are watching a movie.
I was amazed at how willing Anil and Anurag were to go out on a limb. Both are game for all sorts of abuse. They hurl colorful insults at each other. Anil cheerfully takes taunts about his age, his expired shelf-life, nepotism, the fact that there is only one star left in the house – Sonam. Meanwhile, Anurag comes off as insufferably arrogant and borderline unhinged. Both are revealing the worst version of themselves. The two also get into physical brawls – one takes place at Anil's house during his birthday celebrations. The contrast between the cheerful family occasion and the men tearing into each other is hilarious.
But AK vs AK isn't an extended, insider joke. Vikram isn't just interested in the laughs that the set-up offers. He steers AK vs AK into dark and unsettling places. The film also becomes a portrait of the corrosive nature of fame, the twisted relationship stars have with their fans – at every turn, Anil is asked for selfies and autographs but he is also their prisoner. Ultimately, he has to become a performing monkey or as he says, bhaand. The heart of a film is a scene in Dharavi in which Anil, desperate and bleeding, asks the crowd for help. But first he must entertain them. Ultimately the public is the boss. As Munna in Rangeela so wisely put it – "Apun public hai. Public kisi ko kuchh bhi bol sakta hai. Jiss mein apna paisa wasool nahin uska dabba gul."
AK vs AK is watchable but like so many meta movies, it eventually trips on its own cleverness and hits a dead end. The film is designed to break the illusion of cinema, which makes it hard for the characters to have emotional depth. The thriller aspect of it – Anil has limited time to rescue Sonam who has been kidnapped by Anurag – also runs out of steam. Anil and Anurag, who are practically in every frame of the film, give it everything they can but eventually, the energy flags. The last twist, which adds another layer of deceit, is the weakest.
Still, I recommend that you see AK vs AK as a worthy experiment. There are some stand-out scenes here – including one in a police station where Anil goes to file a report that his daughter is missing.
Watching AK vs AK made me hope that some filmmaker remakes one of my favorite meta movies – Bowfinger, in which Steve Martin plays a director who shoots a film with an A-list star, played by Eddie Murphy, without the star knowing it. AK vs AK feels like the less joyous cousin of that film.
You can watch AK vs AK on Netflix.