In a film industry obsessed with itself, AK vs AK comes as a relief. Yes, it is about the actors — Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap — but there is no hero in this Netflix film. The format is unusual for Bollywood, the actors are not trying to be underdogs, and there is definitely no tear-jerking moment of victory at the end of it. AK vs AK is a thriller in ‘reality’ TV — a film in a film.
When you go to see a Salman Khan movie, you go to see it for Bhai. Same for Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, or Hrithik Roshan. You are acutely aware that no matter who they portray, you only end up seeing the megastars.
AK vs AK is a self-reflexive, inside joke at stardom and stereotypes. But it also offers a possibility to break Bollywood’s untenable, outdated and lazy star system – befitting in a pandemic year when Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have already cut mega egos and mega budgets to size. The viewer, still dealing with the sudden divorce from the big screen last year, now gets to feel as if she is peeping into the real lives and real homes of the big players. Only natural after a year of doing exactly that on Instagram feeds of the stars.
Throughout Vikramaditya Motwane’s film, you are left questioning, this looks real, but is it? Could it have been done in Bollywood — the meta genre? Maybe this is our answer to the Borat school of cinema. Now, we wait for our Deadpool.
In AK vs AK, yesterday’s star and today’s Twitter warrior-cum-Indian Tarantino grate on each other – one battling with fatigue and the other with an itch to be ‘hat ke’. But in the end, it is a war of egos and smarts. Quintessential Bollywood, you would say. Except that this is done by upending the very industry formula.
Anurag Kashyap is himself. Anil Kapoor is himself. Their real-life characteristics are all in place — Anurag Kashyap is bratty, irreverent and desperately wants to direct great stuff beyond Gangs of Wasseypur, and owns a mega library of movie DVDs. Anil Kapoor is caught in the classic conundrum — is he the hero or is he the hero’s dad? — questioning his acting, his ‘Jhakaas’ and dancing to ‘My Name is Lakhan’ on loop. And yet, it’s all still fiction.
Be bad, be real
Bollywood is a self-soaked land. You usually don’t find actors being real, being vulnerable. Most aren’t real in front of the camera, forget interviews.
The AIB Roast has been long forgotten and taken off YouTube. This film is our next-best option now (if you don’t count the staged Twitter spat between Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap before the release of the movie on 24 December).
Bollywood is a guarded palace of illusions. To see AK vs AK go into the homes of Kashyap and Kapoor, and have the two characters hit at each other’s weakest points is a delight for Indians — we love balcony view of conflicts.
While Anil Kapoor tells Anurag Kashyap that his brother (Abhinav) made the ‘only hit’ in the family (Dabangg), the director calls out Kapoor’s inability to evolve out of his old hits (Nayak).
Sonam Kapoor and Harshvardhan Kapoor are in supporting cast as themselves. The Dharavi scenes are real, people did gather to see Kapoor dance. The train station scenes are real. Anil Kapoor asking taxi drivers to help look for his daughter is real.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that Indians love good content — Sir to Paatal Lok to Scam 1992.
It will take some audacity for Bollywood to give us twice-baked, badly spiced films again. (Here’s looking at you Coolie No. 1.) We can only be thankful that AK vs AK wasn’t about Akshay Kumar in a double role.
India is a country that worships its film stars, ignoring who they are in reality because that’ll be far from digestible.
Shot like a video game, with jerky camera movements, you are watching AK vs AK as you — the audience, peering into the lives of two famous people in Bollywood over the span of one night.
It is said that we watch films to escape reality, but here, it seems like we are held hostage by the thriller of reality. It has worked in a time where the coronavirus has ensured we feel detached from everything outside our bedroom.
It’s the start of an era.
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