"Dhinakdin dha, dhinakdin dha, rumpumpum, rumpumpum rumpapapa rumpum". I defy anyone listening to those words, accompanied by the heavy percussion, to resist the urge to get up and pump one's arms in that signature move made immortal by Anil Kapoor (AK) in Ram Lakhan (1989). In a career spanning 40 years, that move, and the quintessential Bambaiyya swagger-filled word "jhakaas", have come to define him, even to a whole generation of Indians below the age of 30 who weren't born when they were first enacted and uttered. That level of adulation, fame and iconography can be a heady mix, and not something that most actors would mess with. AK however takes that head-on in the new Netflix original AK vs AK released today, Dec 24 (more on the significance of that date later). The other AK in the title is Anurag Kashyap, the enfant terrible of Hindi cinema, a director and writer who has made movies like Black Friday (2007) and Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), and written movies like Satya (1998) and Nayak (2001) on his own terms, creating a brand of cinema that is instantly recognizable as uniquely his.
In AK vs AK, both play themselves, one the star actor, the other the star director. It's a hostage thriller in the vein of Liam Neeson's Taken (2008), with a looming deadline et al, and would have worked great on its own in that genre. But the reality angle thrown in by having both of them play themselves, and knowing what we know about their careers and filmography, adds an especially delicious touch. The way they have portrayed themselves play to our extreme expectations of each of them, both good and bad. Shot in a cinema verite, movie-within-a-movie style by director Vikramaditya Motwane who made the wonderful Udaan (2010), AK vs AK is kinetic energy personified. At a crisp 1 hr 48 mins running time, the energy never flags. Along the way it takes potshots at everything from the current bete noire plaguing the industry and obsessing the media and certain portions of the public, nepotism, to the fickle nature of fame to outsize but fragile egos. The rest of the ensemble cast are all playing versions of themselves as well - Anil Kapoor's daughter Sonam, his son Harsh and his brother Boney. The only one missing, as is the case in real life as well where she has always kept a low profile, is his wife Sunita. Even the people who don't appear on screen but are voices only are playing themselves - actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui who is Kashyap's muse, and Sonam's husband Anand Ahuja.
The bulk of the movie takes place on Dec 24, 2019 (exactly a year ago today). It also is the real life birthday of Anil Kapoor, born Dec 24, 1956 and the birthday is smartly incorporated into the script. The movie is shot on real locations like the actual houses of the 2 AKs, the streets of Mumbai, its railway stations and Dharavi. The scene at the beginning showing a panel discussion is at the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image) movie festival, chaired by real life film critic Sucharita Tyagi who does "Not a Movie Review" for the Film Companion website. It's all very meta and there are several inside baseball references for the movie buff watching. Some of them are hilarious, like the ones referencing the confusion that many lay folks have distinguishing between Anurag Kashyap, his director brother of Dabangg (2010) fame Abhinav Kashyap, and director Anurag Basu, no relation.
Anil Kapoor gives a bravura performance, unafraid to take on all the sacred cows of his life and career, while milking them to the hilt when the situation demands. But we always knew his capacity for great acting. Anurag Kashyap, on the other hand, is a revelation as an actor. He plays to the audience's expectation of him as the slightly unhinged, manic obsessive to the T. It takes a phenomenal amount of self-assurance and being secure in one's own skin, by both of them, to agree to, and pull off, such a venture without being overly coy or overly obnoxious. The realism they have injected, especially in the crowd scenes with non-actors, is such that even though you know you are watching a movie, there are times at which you feel like you are watching a documentary. The lines between the reel AK and the real AK blur and the result is jhakaas.
December 24, 2020