RK/RKAY plays like something of a witty, warm riff on the absurdist stylings of early Charlie Kaufman, and pulls it off.
Anybody who has tackled a creative project of any size will know just how quickly things can get out of hand. Budgets walk an agonizingly thin tightrope, time slips away, and the ideas that seemed so brilliant on paper can face hurdles in execution. We writers know that sometimes it can feel like characters are wriggling around on the page, refusing to stay put and do what they’re told. For RK, the filmmaker at the heart of Rajat Kapoor’s crowd-funded RK/RKAY, this creative struggle becomes ingeniously literal. While in the editing phase of producing his new film, RK (played by director Kapoor) sees his life thrown into turmoil when Mahboob, his main character (also played by Kapoor), disappears from the film entirely and takes on a life of his own. Seamlessly blending into RK’s life and threatening to usurp his creator, Mahboob quickly outgrows the story RK had designed for him, and proceeds to wreak quiet havoc on the director’s life.
Rocking with such a fanciful premise, RK/RKAY makes a wise decision in leaning into its own absurdity. Despite boasting a narrative that bears resemblance to the work of artists like Charlie Kaufman, Kapoor’s script is far wittier and somewhat warmer than similar but more cerebral efforts. Instead of going down any hazy, surreal rabbit hole, RK/RKAY remains relatively grounded, even despite its comic premise, stretching to its furthest emotional conclusions, both in terms of examining the creative process and the resultant ripple effects that beset friends, family, and co-workers who get caught up in it. In Kapoor’s magical-realist world, emotional truth trumps any and all logic without smoothing out the darker edges of reality, utilizing stylish cinematography to blend the two worlds with ease and bathing his fictional characters in buttery, golden light that seems to emanate directly from them, even when they inhabit the real world, which is captured in a more subdued hue. These starkly contrasting worlds might allow for easy satire, but the film doesn’t opt for cheap gains. To his credit, Kapoor does not adopt a cynical tone so much as one that refuses to allow highfalutin ideas of artistry to obscure the parts of creativity that are more akin to mental masturbation than art. For all its charm and comedy, RK/RKAY maintains a refreshing, razor-sharp wit that Kapoor directs consistently inward, questioning the relationship between the creator and their creation, and interrogating his characters as avatars of his own inadequacies and fantasies.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | May 2021.