RK/Rkay Review: Quirky Satire Bolstered By Delightful Turns By Rajat Kapoor And Cast

RK/RKay Review: It might not exactly send you into paroxysms of delight, but the film thrives on a steady flow of wry wit and humour - and flashes of vitality.

RK/Rkay Review: Quirky Satire Bolstered By Delightful Turns By Rajat Kapoor And Cast

A still from RK/RKay trailer. (courtesy: Rajshri)

Cast: Rajat Kapoor, Mallika Sherawat, Ranvir Shorey, Kubbra Sait

Director: Rajat Kapoor

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Mahboob Alam (Rajat Kapoor), a fictional figure who sneaks out of a film-within-a-film in RK/Rkay, confronts his creator, the titular independent filmmaker-screenwriter (Rajat Kapoor again), and ridicules him for failing to breathe life into his characters. That is why you have never made a successful film, Mahboob taunts RK.

The obvious meta-narrative elements apart, the onerous art of 'breathing life' into a character plays out in an entirely literal sense in this crowdfunded piece of cinematic whimsy. Written and directed by the film's lead actor Rajat Kapoor, RK/Rkay, in theatres from Friday, has a free and easy rhythm that offsets its occasional but mild bouts of self-indulgence.

The protagonist of RK's under-production movie ups and quits without a warning after the film has wrapped. The character leaves everyone, including two others in the film in the making, in the lurch, not to speak of a gaping hole in the narrative.

The fictive Mahboob is a master chef who is in love with a classic femme fatale, Gulabo (Mallika Sherawat), and is trying to shake gangster K.N. Singh (Ranvir Shorey) off his back. He wants to be more than just a figment of a screenwriter's imagination.

RK is flummoxed. The producer, a smarmy builder (Manu Rishi Chadha), is at his wit's end. As a frantic search is launched for the missing Mahboob, mayhem erupts in this quirky and perky satire that lampoons the hurly-burly of low-budget filmmaking even as it celebrates aspects of the kind of popular Hindi cinema that held sway in the 1960s and 1970s.

RK/Rkay, on the face of it, casts its net wide for inspiration: it recalls folk stories, drama (Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author), literature (Thomas Mann's The Transposed Heads), and even cinema (John Woo's Face/Off and James Whale's 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, posters of which are prominently referenced). The debt Kapoor owes, if at all, to the abovementioned works is limited and tangential.

If there is anything that RK/Rkay is unabashedly in love with it is Hindi cinema of a certain vintage. The title itself is unambiguous. Popular 1950s/1960s screen villain K.N. Singh is invoked through Ranvir Shorey's voice, demeanour and attire. The background score when the gun-wielding baddie struts around on screen is markedly retro.

The film's sole song - a love ditty written by Hussain Haidry, composed by Sagar Desai and crooned by Shaan - also harks back to gentler times. And nothing could be more genteel than the love of Mahboob's life, Gulabo, who shares her name with Waheeda Rehman's memorable character in Guru Dutt's Pyaasa?

Mera Naseeb (My Destiny), the film that RK is directing, is nothing like Pyaasa. Nor is Neha (Mallika Sherawat), the tantrum-prone diva who plays Mahboob's beloved, remotely like the mild-mannered, lovelorn Gulabo Waheeda Rehman immortalised.

RK/Rkay follows its own arc as it deals with creator-creation, fact-fiction and reality-perception semantics. The film's rhythm is frisky and playful, but it also manages to factor in pertinent debates (tongue firmly in cheek) over the 'right' of fictional characters to break free from the clutches of their writer and script their own destiny.

Early in the film, RK declares that he gives his actors complete freedom to improvise. Do what you want, he says to Ranvir Shorey (the actor plays himself in this and a few other scenes), who is at a loose end because he has no dialogue to deliver. I don't want freedom, I want lines, the latter quips.

It seems RK has reserved the best lines for the character that he himself portrays in Mera Naseeb. His plans go awry. One fine morning, he receives a frantic call from an assistant. The film's principal character has vanished from every single frame.

RK's wife Seema (Kubbra Sait) reveals to her children Vivan (Abhishek Sharma) and Rabia (Grace Girdhar) with utmost nonchalance what has transpired. The family is around a dining table - a setting as commonplace as any. A routine nature of a family repast is contrasted

with a surreal turn of events. The son, as bright as a button, has questions. The father finds cinematic universe parallels to throw light on the piquant situation.

The filmmaker-protagonist of RK/Rkay has to occasionally spar with other characters over the purpose and substance of what is passed off as independent cinema as his artistic choices are questioned. The self-deprecatory tone also seeps into the juxtaposing of the desertion by the lead character and the creative implosion that the RK's film suffers. It isn't working out, RK says at one point. At another, his wife reminds him that it's only a film!

Does RK/Rkay reflect a similar sense of the gap between what is intended and what eventually takes shape? It does. A sardonic, casual air is sustained all through the hunt for Mahboob and the subsequent complications and twists that the rigmarole triggers.

Mahboob has the film unit on his trail. The man who has strayed into real world also has to reckon with the persistent K.N. Singh who, still in the fictional universe, vows to catch the hero and make him pay for reneging on a deal.

The wall between the two worlds is repeatedly breached. The filmmaker lodges a police complaint. The inspector (Shrikant Yadav) wants to know the name of the missing person's father. RK thinks up a name on the spur of the moment - Aftaab Alam.

The cop asks: Aapka kya lagta hai (how are you related to the missing man)? RK pauses a while and adds that he gave birth to Mahboob. The inspector shoots back: Are you Aftaab Alam then? Reality is as much of a riddle here as make-believe.

No matter what has caused Mahboob's exit from the film - a digital glitch, a disorienting misadventure or simply a rebellion by a character who is determined to wrest control of his existence beyond the fiction of his life - the collision between the real and the imaginary leads to an uneasy coalescence, if not co-existence.

RK/Rkay isn't always as smart as it thinks it is - parts of the film flirt with either the obvious or the pedestrian - but it manages in the main to sustain a level of wit and flair that serves it well when it is in danger of swerving off a settled course.

RK/Rkay is bolstered by delightful turns by Rajat Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey, Kubbra Sait and Manu Rishi Chadha. Watch out for a striking cameo by Namit Das as a man who waits tables and sings rap.

RK/Rkay is consistently intriguing. It might not exactly send you into paroxysms of delight, but the film thrives on a steady flow of wry wit and humour - and flashes of vitality. Thoroughly enjoyable.