Review of AK vs. AK – an ingenious meta-conflict of Bollywood heavyweights Movie

AAfter an indistinguishable pandemic year, Indian cinema closes 2020 with a postmodern surprise, both likable and nasty. Shot under the radar, and announced just days ago, mock-doc Vikramaditya Motwane is proposing a seismic breakdown between the two industry leaders. In one corner, Anil Kapoor, the endearing patriarch of one of Bollywood’s most famous clans. On the other hand, Anurag Kashyap, a filmmaker and longtime critic of film nepotism, has made an incredible mile here by kidnapping Anil’s daughter and giving her father 10 hours to find her. Kashyap, orchestrating this round of target hideouts, intends to create “the most dangerous hostage thriller in the history of cinema” – which is spoken of as a true showman.

Bollywood postmodernism is nothing new: Shah Rukh Khan stalked himself through the ultra knowing Fan four years ago. What Kashyap and Motwane bring to the genre, aided by Netflix’s approach to censorship, is a sharper edge. Motwane and co-writer Avinash Sampath cunningly refer to Taken, but a closer narrative precedent would be 1996’s The Fan, with Kashyap in De Niro’s role of marginalized dissatisfaction and his schemes updated for an age saturated with image. At one point, Kapoor bursts into the police station, which is quickly filled with police officers who want to take selfies with the actor rather than listen to his complaint; when they do, they encounter applause – the assumption is that their hero is practicing a monologue.

As a director, Kashyap’s experiments in refreshing the Hindi mainstream have achieved variable success, but here, with Motwane firing, the provocation works. As a thriller, it is hardly dropped and does not give him an easy way out: Kapoor constantly has to throw his own public figure and his tormentors home on the cracks created on his facade “Mr. India”. Maybe it’s a little bit inside baseball – the more you know the careers of these men, the more you’ll enjoy them – and no AK manages to address the role of women in this industry except as pawns in a boy’s game.

Still, this is your only chance this Christmas to see the lead star and director go down each other’s throats – and a timely reminder that Indian cinema can still have a stunning out-of-the-way break.