Like the lead character in the film RK/RKAY, writer-director-actor Rajat Kapoor makes small, interesting films that win critical acclaim and do the festival rounds, but, as a snippy assistant points out, are not successful.
Kapoor has gone the crowdfunding way before and does it again for this film which has a part fantasy, past nostalgia, part lived-reality feel, making do with wit and whimsy, because a big budget was not at hand.
RK (Kapoor), an indie filmmaker, has managed to find a producer, Goel (Manu Rishi Chadha), a genial, builder who is enamoured of the process of filmmaking, and watches it all with wide-eyed awe. The film that RK wants to make is a strange tribute to the Urdu language, the kind of crime-cum romantic saga in which the coy heroine is named Gulabo (after Pyaasa’s kindly streetwalker) and the villain (Ranvir Shorey) is called KN Singh (a star villain of his time), in the suit-hat costume of the Bolly-noir films Guru Dutt and Raj Khosla used to make.
The filmmaker has trouble finding a leading lady who can speak old-style dialogue in a simpering tone and after a hilarious audition sequence, casts a diva, Neha (Mallika Sherawat), who claims to love the script and then unleashes her manager to negotiate the fee with Goel. Even she needs prompting when the shooting takes place and drives the assistants crazy with her attitude. At some point Goel timidly asks if RK is making an Urdu film. He, and RK’s young team of assistants, are also not happy with the tragic ending. Nobody wants to watch such films today, they rightly surmise.
The real crisis hits when the hero of the film, Mehboob Alam (a mustachioed Kapoor) decides he does not want to die, runs away from the scene (like the hero of Woody Allen’s 1985 film The Purple Rose of Cairo) and hails a taxi to the railway station. A panicky editor calls to say that the hero has vanished from all the scenes, and it cannot possibly be a technical glitch. The scene in which they try to report the missing hero to the puzzled cops is deliciously absurd.
Mehboob is eventually found, and for want of a better place to dump him, RK takes him home, where he lives with his wife Seema (Kubbra Sait) and two kids (named after Kapoor’s real-life children). The fictional character cannot believe he does not exist outside of the film, and that he speaks lines written for him by RK. But he makes himself comfortable, cooking up delicious treats for the family and friends, since he is a chef – khansama, he insists, not bawarchi. The connoisseur will know the difference.
RK has to find a way of getting Mehboob back into the film, and he is struck with writer’s block, particularly when there are demands to change the ending.
Without getting pretentiously philosophical, the film makes its points about life, cinema, free will, the classical romance that is never replicated in reality, the artistic process and also the vanity of the creator—all without dropping its quirky, comic tone. Mehboob came out of RK’s imagination, but when he is able to shake off those chains, he turns out to be a better man then the conceited and harried director. (It goes a bit like Susan Seidelman’s 1987 movie Making Mr Right.)
RK’s office has posters of The Invisible Man and La Dolce Vita, just an indication of his creative schizophrenia, the kind of films he probably dreams of making, versus the film he gets to make, which even his protagonist wants to escape. Kapoor prevents it from becoming a bitter satire against the compromises demanded of the artist by keeping the tone persistently cheerful. It does get repetitive and a bit messy, till it finds its feet again and moves to a satisfying climax.
In this RK vs RK duel, there is not much for other actors to do, except be a part of a spirited support system for the filmmaker. Look for Namit Das stealing his one scene as a rapping waiter. Mallika Sherawat, appearing on screen after gap, tries to capture the spirit of the 50s heroine, but cannot quite reach it. Kapoor clearly enjoys playing Mehboob, who, RK irritatedly calls a “one-dimensional twit.” The joke’s on him, because he wrote the character as a cardboard hero, who broke out of the carton.
(This is a slightly modified version of the piece that appeared in scroll.in)