It has been nearly two decades since Rajat Kapoor’s maiden directorial feature film Raghu Romeo hit screens in 2003, but his love for experimental cinema and offbeat stories has not faded away. His seventh film RK/RKay is a genre-bending narrative, a pleasing respite from the formulaic plotlines offered in the commercial film space.
RK/RKay is centered around a filmmaker named RK, who, much like Kapoor’s role in real life, is playing Mehboob, the protagonist of his new film. Once the film goes for edit, Mehboob mysteriously disappears from the footage and enters real life, demanding RK to change the ending of his film.
As the lines between fiction and reality are blurred, the film creates an illusion of the narrative being more personal—a calculated step, Kapoor admitted in an interview with Film Companion. To many cine-goers, it might create a sense of the Marvel multiverse and its multiple inhabitants or Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022). But Kapoor’s cinematic world is more rooted in fables and fantasy.
On the face of it, RK/RKay appears to be more suited for streaming platforms but Kapoor had his eyes set on a theatrical release. Even his characters seem obsessed with the luring
magic of cinema halls. “It’s just a film, RK,” says his wife, Seema (Kubbra Sait). A visibly disappointed and hurt RK says, “Just a film? Just a film? I can’t believe you said that.” Interestingly, it took four years for Kapoor to make this film, mostly because of how unconventionally he financed it. As the end credits roll out for RK/RKay, hundreds of
names pop up as ‘crowd producers’—underlining Kapoor’s determination to give wings to his creativity, as well as his love for films and theatres.
RK and his cinematic world
Kapoor, who by his own admission prefers direction over acting, has established himself as
a unique filmmaker. Inspired by experimental filmmakers like Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani, Kapoor has stitched narratives and characters that have always strayed away from the more popular storylines. Be it the mainstay in his first film Raghu Romeo, obsessed with a character in a TV serial, or Mithya (2008) where the protagonist gets mistaken for an underworld don.
Even in his most revered film Ankhon Dekhi (2014), the central character, an aged man
(played by the impeccable Sanjay Mishra) is obsessed with distinguishing fiction from reality as he earnestly imbibes the philosophy of ‘seeing is believing’. As Kapoor describes, his films have a “thematic continuity,” or simply put, identity.
In RK/Rkay, too, Kapoor weaves characters struggling to find their identity and where they fit in, in the larger scheme of things. Though the film is a comic caper, it is served with a large dollop of existential crisis.
As fictitious Mehmood wanders with a (literal) spotlight on him, he continuously struggles to come to terms with his reality which isn’t real anyway. RK, who created this character, also wrestles with the absurdity of circumstances. “What a failure it must be when even the
characters you wrote don’t listen to you,” he says at one point in the film.
While he struggles to reason with one character, he finds it effortless to interact with another, Gulabo (Mallika Sherawat). In one beautiful scene, he candidly speaks with Gulabo, a female character seen in Bollywood films of the 1950s and ‘60s. In these diametrically opposing encounters, one can experience the angst of a writer and varied experiences of creating characters.
I remember attending a film screening of Ankhon Dekhi in April 2018. Even four years after
its release, the theatre was packed with a horde of fans waiting to pick the director’s brain
who was sitting in the third row of a Delhi cinema hall. Though the film did not do well at the box office, it found its afterlife on Netflix. Kapoor had recently said that every day he meets someone who would “thank” him for making this film.
I hope that RK/RKay is able to lure in the audience in multiplexes but even if it does not,
OTT should give the much-needed flight to this heart-warming, yet beautiful film.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)