“RK/RKAY” – Is AOK [MOVIE REVIEW]
“RK/RKAY” by writer/director Rajat Kapoor is a self-referential movie about film that stars…Rajat Kapoor.
RK (played not coincidentally by Rajat Kapoor) is in the final editing stages of his latest film which he wrote, directed, and starred in. As one of his crew comments, “Your last film was s**t. This one wasn’t that bad.” It hasn’t been an easy shoot. His female lead and the love interest of RK’s character Mahboob can’t remember her lines even when they are fed to her. The villain of the piece Ranvir has been told to improvise his own dialogue, and even RK’s own performance lacks depth. RK’s producer, the very obsequious Goel Shab, is very unhappy with the ending of the film where Mahboob dies. You can’t kill the hero, he insists. It’s depressing and audiences won’t like it. RK is intransigent and refuses to listen.
Then the unthinkable happens. The editor calls to tell RK that Mahboob has disappeared from the film. Yes, the fictional character has somehow or other been deleted from every frame. And this is where things get surreal.
Refusing to die in the woods where Ranvir has shot him, Mahboob has run out of the woods and hailed a cab. If a character can remove himself from a film, he can certainly flag down a cab on a deserted road in the middle of a forest. Mahboob next appears on the doorstep of RK and is taken in by his family.
To tell more would eliminate much of the pleasure found in this strange, interesting, and funny film. On the one hand “RK/RKAY” can be thematically compared to films like “The Truman Show,” “Being John Malkovich,” “Purple Rose of Cairo,” and “Cool World” where real life intersects with a fantasy world that is self-created. Kapoor has gone a step further in that besides the surreal nature of this film, he has also created an existential crisis for RK that collides with Mahboob. Mahboob ingratiates himself with RK’s family, not so much with RK. But he can’t stay or RK’s film is ruined. And he won’t leave because Mahboob knows that returning to the film means that he will die and he’s just gotten used to living. Adding insult to injury, Mahboob has the nerve to tell RK that he doesn’t have faith in his own characters and that the script is totally predictable.
With the conjoining of RK and Mahboob, his creation, we are living the existential crisis of a filmmaker battling himself and his anxieties. It is a war of the wills between master and creation where the creation holds all the cards. RK could conceivably write himself out of this predicament. But will he? Can he? And therein lies the philosophical fun.
Kapoor has framed all of this as a film within a film; a movie about making movies. Film references are everywhere on RK’s studio walls—“The Invisible Man,” “M,” and “La Dolce Vita.” The lighting in the movie he’s making veers between Noir and saturated technicolor, referencing both 40s mysteries and 50s love stories. This is, above all, a love letter to an art form where sometimes the line between what is real and what is fantasy is quite blurry.
The actors are wonderful and very believable. Malika Sherawat, a popular Bollywood actress, plays Gulabo the love interest as exaggeratedly heartfelt; and as Neha the actress who plays her, she is hilariously egocentric and insincere.
But this is Kapoor’s film from start to finish and he plays both roles convincingly. An established writer/director/actor in independent Indian films, he is tense and inflexible as RK and approachable and winning as Mahboob—presumably the two sides to RK’s personality that have split apart.
Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, “RK/RKAY” will make you laugh while making you question reality, mortality, anxiety, and the nature of free will. Not bad for a 90 minute film.
In Hindi and English with English subtitles.
Opening May 14 at the Monica Film Center and the Laemmle Virtual Cinema.
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