AK vs AK’ review: a meta, metaphorical, crackling ride

In theory, the relationship between a director and an actor is all give-and-take. A two-way flow of creative juices to satiate the polydipsia of creating something magnificent raging inside both beings. In sanitized interviews, you’ll hear directors waxing about their actors shedding their egos to ‘get into the role’s skin’. The actors gush about the ship-master’s vision and uncanny ability to get their best out of every acting pore, hitherto untapped and unexplored.

All good. Until now. Director Vikramaditya Motwane, writing with Avinash Sampath, turns the happy-in-wonderland world of Mumbai movie camp upside down in AK vs AK. The premise is meta and the writer-director duo adds fantastic layers of metaphors and crackling energy to come up with a fantastic 2020 coda for Hindi cinema. Director Motwane, tongue firmly in cheek pits two AKs—real-life director Anurag Kashyap and actor Anil Kapoor, both playing buzzed, over-the-top versions of themselves, or are they?—against each other. His meta treatment begins as a rip-roaring mockumentary (for us), taking what happened in 2003 as the explosive adjuvant to what follows later on: the director had signed Kapoor for his dark comic take on Delhi, Allwyn Kalicharan (the first name a take-off on one of India’s most iconic refrigerator brand). Supposedly, the actor developed cold feet before shooting began and the movie was eventually shelved. 

Anurag Kashyap and Anil Kapoor with movie critic Sucharita Tyagi: the beginning of it all.

That Kashyap, at one point, was the totem of canned and unreleased movies adds to his perennial angst in AK vs AK. And while they say nothing’s permanent in La La Land, especially friendships and rancor, that’s not true, not here. Motwane sculpts director Kashyap and actor Kapoor as grown-up frat boys fermenting in their images and brewing disdain for each other and each other’s oeuvre. That the director’s waiting to get back at the slight gets in an added spice, as Kapoor proposes working together in a green room before a MAMI discussion onstage—now that he isn’t a superstar and Kashyap’s a hot-listed director. Nothing’s said directly, of course, but the undercurrent distills into a full-blown confrontation onstage later. All the while, wannabe director Yogita Bihani trails Kashyap, shooting for her film school documentary titled Best of Indian Cinema. That green-room scene is perfect, brimming with conceit and bristling egos. 

Anil Kapoor: it’s one bloody night.

There’s more sparks and shocks as the director spectacularly loses it and scripts a ticking countdown thriller (and more references: actor AK in the Indian adaptation of 24) where Kapoor has to rescue his kidnapped daughter, actor Sonam Kapoor, before sunrise. The movie bounds along with the two AKs and Bihani on the streets of Mumbai, strewing references to political proclivities and consequences, the movie-mad city that it is shot in, and the irony of being a once-upon-a-time superstar: the audience is still stuck in the late 80s music groove of your box-office gold movie. Watch how the actor’s forced to perform for an exuberant crowd, never mind his bloodied appearance. And that’s the biggest irony: for the front-seaters, a superstar is always onscreen, even if they’re in front of them in real life. That caked blood? Must be make-up, what else? Superstars are untouchable and scratch-resistant in their shimmering glass towers and bungalows, no?

Anurag Kashyap dances on Anil Kapoor’s anxieties.

Motwane spins the story relentlessly, the power equation between the AKs shifting, teetering on a fulcrum of madness and pow-wow catharsis. The scene in the actor’s bungalow is outstanding, as his family awaits to celebrate his birthday and son (actor Harshvardhan Kapoor) trips over himself to land work with Kashyap, while his father’s tripping over how to rescue his daughter. The conflict and the fatherly indulgence is done superbly, while Kashyap basks in the power that his figurative megaphone wields. 

Anurag Kashyap: calling the shots.

AK vs AK works madly and zippily at various levels: there’s references galore (the one involving Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a hoot—the actor incidentally worked with both directors in the game-changing-for-Indian-series, Sacred Games), a snickering look at the machinations of Bollywood, and the tug-of-war between a director calling the shots and the shot-up actor. It’s also a deep look at the director-actor relationship that can be anything but normal when it involves a corrosive past and an innate hunger for power over the other. A clash between a picaro and a self-hallowed personality. And how fraught the workings are between the roles. What happens when an actor takes over the script? (Citations? Lots.) How does the director deal with that devastating bit, when all that their viewfinder can capture is an ugly story structure atop the rubble of their pristine vision? At another level, it’s a telling metaphor on the bloody and sweaty business of making movies, where, no matter the end result, the team burns all that they’ve got, including—and especially—their personal lives.

Anil Kapoor guns to be the best.

There’s no putting your finger on director Vikramaditya Motwane’s whirlpool of an achievement. And in the vortex, Anurag Kashyap is terrific as he hobbles on the terror of an unreturnable past and an unthinkable future, all the while salivating at the prospect of a perfect shot, never mind his actor’s bruises. But it is Anil Kapoor who shines and swags in what is one of his best, mindful, and introspective performances of all time. He shows what it takes to be where he is and why, with a tight act that straddles the arrogance and the insecurities of the glitz. He knows that no matter how powerful the ego when the director yells “Cut!”, it cleaves the actor’s soul and leaves a mark. That the director may think that the act’s over, but it’s not. 

AK vs AK (2020) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

AK vs AK is streaming on Netflix and is rated A (For Adults only ) for language and violence. 

AK vs AK
Time 1h 48min
Director Vikramaditya Motwane
Writer Avinash Sampath
Stars Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Harshvardhan Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor
Genres Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Watch the trailer of AK vs AK here.