Vikramaditya Motwane’s mockumentary-style parody of the Hindi film industry is perched on the fence between reality and imagination. Anil Kapoor plays a hugely successful actor and a member of a filmmaking clan, while Anurag Kashyap stars as a maverick director who is Bollywood’s ultimate insider-outsider.

In real life, Kashyap had cast Kapoor years ago in a film titled Allwyn Kalicharan that never got made. In the Netflix movie AK vs AK, Kashyap, his ego still bruised from Kapoor’s rejection, takes revenge in the only way he knows – he goes meta.

Accompanied by his camera-wielding assistant Yogita (Yogita Bihani), Kashyap lands up at the set of a movie in which Kapoor is playing an Indian Air Force officer. Kashyap tells Kapoor that he has kidnapped his daughter, the actor Sonam Kapoor. If Kapoor doesn’t co-operate with the film being made within the film, which is about the actor Anil Kapoor looking for his abducted daughter, things will get very nasty.

The kidnapping plot is traced back to a public event that turns into a PR nightmare. Kapoor dismisses the Balenciaga shoes-wearing Kashyap as a serial failure. Kashyap, who has only moments ago declared that he is Indian cinema’s brightest spark (“After me, everyone is shit”), is so incensed that he insults the venerated actor. Kashyap gets blacklisted for his motormouth ways and decides that at the very least, he can extract a movie out of his humiliation.

Anurag Kashyap in AK vs AK (2020). Courtesy Andolan Films/Netflix.

Set over the course of half a day, Motwane’s entertaining romp unfolds entirely through Yogita’s handheld camera (the actual cinematography is by Swapnil Sonawane). Yogita films every excruciating moment of Kapoor’s desperate attempts to locate his daughter.

As Kapoor runs hither-tither, an adoring but heartless public demands that he pose for selfies and perform as some of his most iconic characters. Nobody believes that Kapoor isn’t actually rehearsing for a Kashyap production, whether it is the police or the staff of the hotel where Sonam Kapoor was last spotted.

The cameos include Anil Kapoor’s brother Boney Kapoor and his son Harshvardhan Kapoor. Avinash Sampath’s story and screenplay and Anurag Kashyap’s dialogue are buzzing with insider jokes and self-referential moments. Anil Kapoor, playing heavily to the gallery as Bollywood A-listers are wont to do, frequently uses a word often heard during script pitching sessions: “Mindblowing!” Kashyap says about his kidnapping thriller that he is making “the first realistic film with a superstar not directed by Shyam Benegal”.

Harshvardhan Kapoor, who has failed to excite moviegoers thus far in the real world, has a hilarious scene in which he tells Kashyap how he would direct his project: “This winter, think fucking neon.”

Anil Kapoor in AK vs AK (2020). Courtesy Andolan Films/Netflix.

The conceit is carried off by two excellent central performances and Motwane’s dexterous meshing of documentary and fiction. Both the lead actors – for that is who they really are in AK vs AK – are in perfect sync as they enact a hostage situation that gets darker as the night wears on. Kashyap’s portrayal of a self-obsessed and vampiric filmmaker has just the right amounts of creepiness and cheekiness. It’s often hard to tell whether Kashyap is being himself or the character.

Anil Kapoor is in tremendous form in a verite format that claims to be freewheeling and improvised. Kapoor is goaded by the fictional Kashyap to deliver the performance of his career, and that is exactly what he proceeds to do. Careening between self-pity and pathos, Kapoor never drops a beat.

But to the film’s peril, the thriller factor eventually overtakes the satire. It’s also a shame about the copout conclusion. The denouement explains just how Anil Kapoor and his clan agreed to what amounts to a very lengthy roast. The down-and-dirty flavour proves to be a neat and tightly controlled endeavour – the one joke that falls flat.

Lean and often mean, the 109-minute AK vs AK provides an apt coda to a year in which the Hindi film industry has been strafed for nepotism and shallowness. The behaviour of Kapoor’s fans indicate that the blame extends beyond actors and filmmakers, while the narrative approach proves that Bollywood’s best critics reside within Bollywood.

AK vs AK (2020).