A Meta Black Comedy With The Cultural Depth of a War Movie

Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Writers: Avinash Sampath, Vikramaditya Motwane
Solid: Anil Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Yogita Bihani
Cinematography: Swapnil Sonawane
Editor: Bunty Bhansali

Streaming on: Netflix

A famously arty director feuds with a well-known Bollywood star, loses credibility, kidnaps the person’s daughter and movies the star’s determined seek for her within the hope of capturing a practical efficiency. The director is Anurag Kashyap, as himself. The star is Anil Kapoor, as himself. The backdrop is Mumbai, as itself. Should you’re grinning at this logline, you need to know that AK vs AK will not be the form of movie that exists in a vacuum. It calls for a sure degree of engagement not simply with the tradition of filmmaking but in addition with the sub-culture of the Hindi movie business. It’s a black comedy, however solely within the context of the universe it addresses. Happily for the movie, and sadly for the movie business, 2020 is a 12 months during which this universe has expanded in exponential phrases. Every other 12 months, and AK vs AK might need been a geeky social experiment. However 2020 is a style unto itself: it elevates the cheeky Netflix thriller into the realms of profound social messaging. I’ll nevertheless resist utilizing adjectives like “essential” and “soul-stirring” – as a result of the purpose of the movie is the tough reality it conceals behind its caustic coolness. 

The premise isn’t random. A father in search of his kidnapped daughter is a traditional mainstream trope, whose physicality is tailormade to enrich Anil Kapoor’s late-career bloom: he nailed the racing-against-time urgency of 24. And the meta-cinema trope of a twisted filmmaker forcing artwork out of life is a traditional cinephile trope, whose insanity is tailormade to mine Anurag Kashyap’s alt-Bollywood legacy: his early-career angst with the mainstream elite is properly documented. The lovechild – from this illicit affair between two rival colleges of storytelling – is a viciously amusing, slyly provocative and deceptively dense movie. Is there something extra satisfying than life pretending to be a parody?   

I’ll admit I used to be sceptical after I first heard of Vikramaditya Motwane’s unusual new venture. It seemed like a glorified inside joke pitting the sweaty lanes of Versova towards the manicured lanes of Juhu. However AK vs AK is a masterclass in cultural commentary disguised as a story gimmick. It’s the consequence of an artist reacting to his setting within the language of artwork; Motwane is nothing if not a risk-taker, however his obsessive love for the medium is at its most inclusive right here. The dinnertime altruism of celebrities spoofing themselves is normally restricted to the stakeless confines of web skits and discuss reveals. Watching Kashyap satirize his single-screen obscurity (a scooterist calls him Anurag Basu, the cops mistake him for Madhur Bhandarkar) or Harshvardhan Kapoor hamming it as much as salvage his performing profession (“Motwane f*cked me with Bhavesh Joshi, Anurag can redeem me!”) is brutally humorous, teasing the inherent voyeurism of film audiences. However Motwane and co-writer Avinash Sampath transcend a budget thrills by framing this conceit as a whole feature-length movie. Kapoor insults Kashyap, Kashyap taunts Kapoor, the digital camera fools bystanders into believing that they’re method-shooting a movie. And the gaze of the digital camera fools us, the viewers, into believing that Motwane is method-venting on display. 

However sooner or later, all of the jibes begin to imply one thing, and it begins to say one thing concerning the instances we reside in. That Kapoor is posing in an Indian Air Drive uniform on the units of a patriotic biopic when Kashyap units him off will not be incidental. The makers have been pressured to apologize by the IAF, as a result of Kapoor’s “inaccurate” uniform is a continuing on his wild goose chase throughout town. The precise subtext is misplaced on the outrage mobs. Removed from being a self-referential ode to Janhavi Kapoor’s Gunjan Saxena, this apparel is symbolic of the performative new nation – and by extension the performative new Bollywood – that these like Kashyap have lengthy rallied towards. The picture of Kashyap gleefully following a celebrated star within the dishevelled colors of nationwide delight is a powerful one. It provides a essential political dimension to a movie constructed upon private rage. 

What begins as frivolous enjoyable quickly morphs into a pointy lament on the duality of new-age Hindi cinema. In a 12 months that has seen audiences rail towards this duality – between insiders and outsiders, stars and actors, content material and leisure – the ingenious type of AK vs AK collapses the area separating these poles. Anil Kapoor acts, Anurag Kashyap entertains, and the 2 “events” feed off one another to repackage the futility of ideological warfare. At some degree, the plot acts as a Bollywood troll’s want achievement fantasy: stripping the patron saints of nepotism of their dignity, decreasing them to non-public toys within the pursuit of efficiency artwork. However at one other degree, the climax of the movie – clumsily executed however cleverly conceived – is a actuality test, and an oddly putting indictment of lineage by a long-time Kashyap collaborator. It dares to declare a winner within the battle between the bitterness of a self-made artist and the ego of a privileged star. Today, it appears one can not exist with out the opposite. However this movie means that one all the time exists inside the opposite. 

By doing so, AK vs AK turns into an unexpectedly mournful portrait, and my solely grouse with the movie is that it usually runs the chance of being too playful to disclose the melancholy of the larger image. There’s a dramatic monologue, a meltdown, a gun, a hit-and-run, a chase, a scuffle and a classy twist. It’s all very watchable and nifty, however it additionally tends to lull the viewer into consuming the movie at face worth. The craft – the lengthy takes, very good on-location motion, Motwane’s distinct lensing of nocturnal Mumbai (these native trains and footbridges) – may hijack the psychology of the narrative. In spite of everything, how astute can a film concerning the homegrown making of Taken probably be?

The final notion is that ‘critical’ filmmakers cease at nothing to appreciate their imaginative and prescient – they are going to plumb the depths of hell, contact the skies of heaven or, on this case, swallow the star(s) of earth. For individuals who’ve adopted Anurag Kashyap through the years, it’s not laborious to think about his uniquely sentimental ardour for cinema mutating into one thing extra sinister on a darkish day. Kashyap goes unhinged with disarming ease, lampooning his personal fame whereas staying true to all of the pretentious-director stereotypes. Provided that his most up-to-date movie (Choked) was extra of an irate political assertion than a creative one, his AK vs AK position extends this reactionary tone into a private area. His anti-establishment avatar has began to mould his sense of cinema, and the result is edgy to say the least. 

The final notion can be that old-school superstars wallow within the ocean of accolades previous – the will to remain related is barely rivaled by their counterparts’ need to turn into irreverent. Anil Kapoor has the uncommon present of self-reflexive myth-making: the reinvention of his legacy is inextricably linked to being an excellent sport. His participation on this movie is subsequently a candid confession. He makes the seek for his daughter really feel like a last-gasp seek for relevance and id. All over the place he goes – inns, taxi stands, neighborhood occasions, even his own residence – he’s little greater than the initials of his identify. Being an idol hardly ever affords him the posh of being human. At one level, alone and wounded for the digital camera, he breaks down on the pavement. In a extra typical movie, he can be on stage for the searing monologue, baring his soul to a gathering of shocked faces. However right here it’s a unadorned second, outlined by the irony of a robust movie star in a pretend IAF uniform – the fictional son of a nation – struggling to be an actual father. That is maybe when it dawns upon us that AK vs AK will not be a lot a couple of spat between two grown males as it’s concerning the warfare of two Indias. One is extra resentful than the opposite, however one can not shine with out the opposite. A black comedy it could be for the discerning moviegoer, however a tragedy it stays for the lots.

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