AK vs AK (2020)

The premise of Vikramaditya Motwane’s latest film AK vs AK is immediately intriguing; a film director (Anurag Kashyap) kidnaps the daughter of a film star (Anil Kapoor) and then records the ensuing frantic search against the clock as a thrilling hostage drama. While I had a concern that the film would try too hard to be ‘clever’ and ‘edgy’, and not being a huge fan of Anurag Kashyap, I didn’t jump onto to Netflix straight away. But the story and the trailer were enough to pique my interest.  What I wasn’t expecting was just how funny the film turned out to be, or that it would be quite so entertaining – although it does occasionally almost fall into the trap of trying to be just a little too self-aware. The two AK’s play extreme caricatures of themselves (or at least of their public personas), and the film is peppered with references to their real (and reel) lives in a modern take on a meta film that retains a distinctive Bollywood flavour.

The film starts by introducing Yogita (Yogita Bihani) as a film school student who is recording Anurag for a school project. She follows him with a camera when he is interviewed, along with Anil Kapoor, by Sucharita Tyagi in front of a live audience. Anil is talking about his glory days in numerous hit films while Anurag adds digs about Anil’s recent lack of success. The sniping continues until an audience member asks which is more important, the actor or the director and in the ensuing argument, Anurag throws a glass of water over Anil. It’s brilliantly funny and the various references by each to their respective careers sets the rivalry between the two up beautifully.

As the media splash pictures of the contretemps across the front pages, Anurag is beset by problems, with actors withdrawing from his upcoming film (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a voice cameo) and backers pulling out. But just when the situation seems dire, Yogita comes up with a plan. Next, Anurag goes onto the set of Anil’s latest film where the actor is finishing early to go home and celebrate his birthday. After forcing his way in to speak to Anil, Anurag manages to convince the star that he has kidnaped his daughter Sonam Kapoor, and that Anil has until sunrise to find her. There are just 3 rules: no police, no outsiders and the camera has to remain on. The hunt is on, and as Anil becomes ever more frantic in his attempts to find his daughter, Yogita keeps the camera keeps rolling while Anurag keeps fanning the flames.

It definitely helps to have some idea about the two AK’s and to know something about their respective careers, families and the stories about each. At times the insults cut very close to the bone, but the film plays on this, aiming for the biggest shocks and the nastiest rumours. There are some brilliant moments; such as a scene in a police station where Anurag convinces everyone that Anil is just acting and an extended chase sequence where Yogita is struggling to keep up and the bouncing camera adds to the improvised feel of the film. But at the same time there are some scenes that drag on a little too long and Anurag’s overacting starts to become a tad annoying.

What I really loved in the film was Anil Kapoor and his ability to act, overact and be completely convincing as he changed from frantic father to consummate performer at the drop of a hat. The perils of stardom are shown everywhere as Anil is pressed into posing for selfies by almost every person he meets. Throughout it all there is no question at all that Anil Kapoor is a star. Even when he’s running through the streets, dashing along platforms and accosting taxi drivers, he is never put out by the attention he receives or the demands for selfies. He just smiles, poses and then resumes his search. That struck me as perhaps being the most true-to-life part of the entire film – this endless affirmation of stardom that becomes so all pervasive that it’s not even noticeable any more.

As part of the chase, Anil ends up at a Christmas party where the revellers won’t help him until he performs for them in a brilliant ad hoc dance performance. What makes it even better is Anurag clapping and cheering at the very edge of the crowd. Despite all his digs about Anil’s slide into obscurity, he seems happy to be watching the crowd’s reaction to their hero, or, is he just enjoying the delay to Anil’s hunt for his daughter? The manic look on Anurag’s face tends to suggest it’s much more likely to be the latter. There is ambiguity everywhere, a few unexpected twists and plenty of self-aware backslapping which somehow all works better than it should.

I enjoyed this film much more than I expected. The opening scenes are fantastic and create expectation for a perhaps more nuanced film, but once Sonam is kidnapped and the chase is on, we’re back into more familiar action territory. There is a lull in the middle before the film picks up again, but overall this is in turns funny, shocking, surprising but mostly just entertaining. Be warned though – there is a lot of swearing in this film. It was fun to see Anurag’s DVD library which I remember him talking about at a Q and A session here in Melbourne, and great to see such big Bollywood names such as Boney Kapoor taking part in the action. Other things to look out for are the preponderance of shots featuring images of the actors in mirrors and the glimpses of Jogita and her camera that can be seen reflected in windows, Anurag’s tablet and the car windows. All very meta.

So if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, that’s still very much entrenched in the world of Bollywood, find AK vs AK online, sit back and enjoy the mayhem. 3 ½ stars.

Raanjhanaa (2013)

Raanjhanaa

Raanjhanaa is not a conventional love story, and its two protagonists are not particularly likeable people, but their very human failings do make it possible to understand their mistakes.  Despite their flaws I wanted their love story to succeed even as it seemed destined to fail. Dhanush never fails to impress with his acting but I was apprehensive about his co-star Sonam Kapoor since I’ve yet to see a convincing performance from her – and I still haven’t.  But to be fair, Zoya’s self-absorption is integral to her character, so Sonam’s wooden and lifeless performance actually suits her character for a large part of the film. However Dhanush more than makes up for Sonam’s rather laboured performance and the support cast are all excellent, making Raanjhanaa a better film than reading Himanshu Sharma’s screenplay would suggest.

Young KundanTeenage Kundan

 

 

 

 

 

The film opens with a group of child artists playing the roles of Kundan and his friends.  The kids are charming and in a few short moments they define their characters perfectly, so that each further development makes sense given these childhood traits.  Kundan falls in love with Zoya the very first time he sees her, despite the fact that she is Muslim, he is Hindu, and he’s only about 8 years old. His adoration at first sight develops into a full blown obsession by the time Kundan reaches his teens and his first stumbling attempts to tell the object of his affection how he feels are cringe-worthily appropriate for the ‘stalking = love’ concept that Indian cinema seems to prefer.

Kundan and Zoya

I’m always amazed at how Dhanush manages to transform himself into a young teenager so effortlessly, appearing suitably gauche and naïve against Sonam Kapoor’s rather clunky attempt at adolescence.  She lacks the vitality that made Shruti Hasan more believable as a teenager in 3, but there is some chemistry between the two actors which helps make the budding romance more credible.  Unfortunately at this point there is the first of too many scenes which involve slashing wrists as a way to prove true love.  It’s one of the things I particularly dislike since suicide as a plot device seems dangerous and irresponsible,  especially considering the statistics on youth suicide in almost every country in the world.  I can cope with the stalking, since Zoya definitely encourages Kundan (and I’ve been through the South Indian Cinema Induction Program) but I feel the wrist slashing is just inappropriate.

Kundan and MurariRaanjhanaa

 

 

 

 

 

The separation of the young lovers follows along fairly predictable lines, but what adds interest is the rival obsession shown by Bindiya (Swara Bhaskar) for Kundan.  Swara Bhaskar is excellent as the girl so obsessed with marrying Kundan that she will do absolutely anything to get his attention. She really deserves to win the guy just for her devotion and ability to put up with Kundan and his best friend Murari (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), but at the same time it’s obvious that Kundan would be a horribly abusive husband.  Swara Bhaskar is full of vitality and energy and lights up the screen whenever she appears which is in stark contrast to Sonam Kapoor’s rather bland Zoya. Mohammed Ayyub is also well cast and does a good job as Kundan’s friend alternating between egging him on, and trying (usually unsuccessfully) to restrain his more dramatic impulses.

Abhay Deol plays Akram, a student activist angling for election to government and the third member of the love triangle.   While Abhay plays his part well he seems too old to be a convincing student leader, even one who is seriously considering a political career. Still, he does seem to have more to offer than Kundan, as demonstrated by the difference in their respective modes of transport.

Kundan and Zoya scooterZoya and Abhay motorbike

 

 

 

 

 

The story seems to lose its way in the second half as the love story gives way to the political campaign and there are a few too many contrived filmi coincidences as Kundan moves out of Benares and into Zoya’s world.  But the changes in both Zoya and Kundan as their circumstances alter are well depicted and the consequences of their actions are shown to be greater than they could ever have imagined. As a teenager, Kundan’s every emotion is clearly visible on his face and his body language also transmits his feelings at every turn.  With the transition to adulthood he becomes more restrained until by the end of the film Kundan is expert at concealing his true feelings and doesn’t allow any of his emotions to colour his conversation with Zoya.  It’s a fantastic performance from Dhanush and director Anand Rai has drawn out every nuance in his character’s behaviour.

Raanjhanaa

After the first few scenes in childhood Sonam Kapoor keeps her stunned indifference expression throughout, but it is apt for Zoya’s personality so it does tend to work. She looks beautiful, but there is too much style and not enough substance in Zoya, particularly compared with Bindiya and even Akam’s sister Rashmi (Shilpi Marwaha).

RaanjhanaaZoya

 

 

 

 

 

The music by A. R. Rahman fits perfectly and the dance sequences are well placed in the narrative and generally help to carry the story forward.  Benares looks like almost any other city in North India until there are shots of the river, and then it’s suddenly magical as Natarajan Subramaniam and Vishal Sinha bring the city to life with their cinematography. It’s an impressive debut for Dhanush in Hindi cinema, and he does well with the language too (at least as far as my inexpert ear can tell).  Worth watching for a role that seems to have been made for Sonam Kapoor, an excellent performance from Dhanush and from the rest of the cast and a rather different view of “love”.