Hindi cinema is well known for its formulaic big-budget films. But every now and then, the industry somehow permits a completely unique film to exist. AK vs AK is one of them. It is one of the most unique films, not just of 2020, but of the 21st century.
AK are the initials of both; esteemed filmmaker, Anurag Kashyap and veteran actor, Anil Kapoor. AK vs AK follows the fictional rivalry of fictional versions of Kapoor and Kashyap.
Kashyap resents Kapoor for passing on his 2003 project, Allwyn Kalicharan, and thus rebuffs Kapoor’s offer on doing a film together, in the present day. After a public altercation between the two AKs, Kashyap is disgraced and becomes a pariah in the film industry. He loses funding for his film and plots a revenge scheme with a documentary filmmaker, Yogita (Yogita Bihani), who was making a film on him.
On Christmas eve, i.e Kapoor’s birthday, Kashyap comes to Kapoor with a script where a crazed director played by Anurag Kashyap kidnaps the daughter of a film star, played by Sonam Kapoor. The film star would be played by Anil Kapoor. He reveals that the film is actually being shot in real-time and Kapoor has until sunrise to save his daughter, Sonam.
Kapoor is forced to take part in Kashyap’s twisted film, as no one believes him that Sonam is in real danger and that he is not acting. AK vs AK is a hostage thriller in the format of a mockumentary satire.
First off, acting in this film was a bold decision on the Kapoor’s part. An actor of his reputation, acting in such an experimental film, is practically unheard of. He is brilliant as this fictional version of himself.
He even manages to bring some moments of real emotion in this satire. His story here is quite similar to his character’s story in the Indian adaptation of the TV series, 24. His character allows the filmmakers to explore the star culture in India.
Anurag Kashyap is surprisingly great as well. He is uproariously hilarious as this vain version of himself whose hubris knows no bounds. From reacting to a fan by saying, “Mai bhi apna bohot bada fan hun” to quipping, “There is blood” while comparing a bleeding Kapoor to Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007), Kashyap has some of the most quotable lines in AK vs AK.
He has excellent comic timing and works as a great foil to Kapoor. The problem is when he has to act in dramatic scenes. He is abysmal in such scenes to the extent that the illusion of the meta film is also broken.
There are several cameos by renowned members of the film industry like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Boney Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Sucharita Tyagi etc.
Easily the best cameo, out of all of them, is given by Anil Kapoor’s son, Harshvardhan Kapoor who also plays a fictional, over-eager version of himself. Disappointed by the performance of his second film, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018), the sole admirer of Kashyap in Kapoor’s family, Harshvardhan wants Kashyap to direct the sequel to Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. Harshvardhan is over the top, enthusiastic and brings a much-needed spark of energy to film at precisely the right time.
AK vs AK is screenwriter Avinash Samapth’s first feature-length film. He absolutely knocks it out of the park with this completely novel idea. The closest film that comes to AK vs AK is I’m Still Here (2010) which follows a fictional version of Joaquin Phoenix who gives up acting for a career as a hip hop musician.
The idea itself would have been worth the price of admission had the film been released in the theatres, but the screenplay, jointly written by Sampath and director, Vikramaditya Motwane manages to keep the audience engaged.
The dialogue is smart, witty and quotable. Kashyap’s lines, specifically, are littered with hilarious one-liners and references to all things related to cinema around the world.
The film is filmed like a documentary and hence can best be classified as a mockumentary. Despite the rough, documentary, handheld footage and minimal colour grading, the film has some great shots and even manages to incorporate visual references to films, like the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs (1992).
The film switches aspect ratios to show if the footage shown is a part of the documentary or a glimpse into something that wasn’t filmed by the camera. This was a clever technique that could have definitely been utilised more.
The title sequence of the film by Mayank Dasmana is a quirky 8-bit animation fight that perfectly sets the mood for what is come.
The score of the film ranges from jazz to rock to Hindi rap. Music usually doesn’t work in mockumentaries but here, it perfectly complements the film.
Another commendable aspect of the production is its ingenious marketing campaign that further blurred the lines between reality and fiction. From diss tracks to fake Twitter feuds, the marketing has been almost as entertaining as the film itself.
Usually, films with such unorthodox ideas get caught up with the premise and can’t deliver on it. AK vs AK delivers, but to a limited extent. The first act of the film is excellent, as it tends to be in such films, but the believability and tension whittle down during the second act. Still, the audience can suspend their disbelief and continue to enjoy the film.
But the biggest problem of AK vs AK is its third act. It takes a bold choice but unfortunately, it does not work at all and ruins the film to an extent.
It fails primarily due to average writing and an absolute lack of believability. Kashyap’s woefully bad acting, in dramatic segments, does not help the film. The dialogue also stops being clever and instead becomes repetitive, expository and tedious.
A particular scene in the final few minutes of the film is especially awful as it over explains a point with a ton of exposition and intercut scenes.
AK vs AK started out as a satire. From the news channels to the petty squabble between Kapoor and Kashyap, itself, AK vs AK seemed to be a hilarious commentary on the vanity, narcissism, star worship and pretences in the film industry in general. But towards the third act, the film became an unreal parody and a shallow attempt to poke fun at the film industry.
Sampath’s meta concept, Motwane’s execution, Kashyap’s one-liners, Kapoor’s acting all come together in AK vs AK to make something wholly original. Despite its flaws, AK vs AK is an admirable attempt and a reminder that there are still unexplored territories in this post-modern world.
AK vs AK is an entertaining must-watch for cinephiles and anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone.
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