Pirandello definitely would have approved of the spirit behind “RK/RKAY,” a small-scale identity comedy set in the film world about a writer-director-actor, embodied by writer-director-actor Rajat Kapoor, whose lead character walks out of his new picture and into the real world. Complicating matters is that the character is also personified by the director, leading to a pleasing play on selfhood that ever-so-lightly toys with notions of free will and agency: Can a fictional character assume a persona separate from its creator? More modestly budgeted than most of Kapoor’s other works (“Mithya,” “Kadakh”), this crowdfunded labor of love is unlikely to generate much buzz but will be appreciated by audiences looking for congenial entertainment.
Seasoned director RK (Kapoor) can’t put his finger on exactly why, but he’s dissatisfied with the movie he’s making, a 1960s-inspired caper in which he plays the protagonist Mahboob. It’s putting a noticeable strain on his relationship with his wife Seema (Kubbra Sait), and frustrations during editing are just making things worse, so his crew suggests he take a ten-day break to collect his thoughts. Then he gets a call from assistant director Namit (Chandrachoor Rai) saying that Mahboob’s disappeared from the rushes — he’s not even in the negative anymore.
No one can explain what happened, but if RK doesn’t find Mahboob, he has no film. At a loss to know where to look, his young son Vivan (Abhishek Sharrma) reminds his father that since he created the character, he knows him better than anyone else. That’s when he thinks of looking at the train station, where indeed he finds Mahboob trying to get to Kolkata to see his lover Gulabo (Mallika Sherawat). RK takes an equally bewildered Mahboob back home, much to the amusement of his family, who particularly appreciate the unexpected visitor’s culinary skills. As Mahboob settles in and starts to develop a character separate from one that’s pre-scripted, he resists the pressure to return to the film, especially after he’s told he’ll be killed in the finale.
There are so many directions “RK/RKAY” could have gone that it’s somewhat disappointing Kapoor chooses not to develop the different themes and characters, starting with the relationship between RK and Seema (though Sait, so noteworthy as Kukoo in “Sacred Games,” exudes a warmth that implies more depth than her underwritten role is actually given). The film’s brisk running time could easily have accommodated a more considered though still playful engagement with the whole meta narrative and Mahboob’s grappling with suddenly acquiring an agency he never knew he didn’t have. The same goes for RK’s crisis of self, which is swiftly passed over and neatly wrapped up by the bland ending.
Visually, Kapoor and his DP Rafey Mahmood have fun with the contrasts between the overlit, slightly garish colors of the 1960s homage and the toned-down tonalities of the present. That harsher wattage follows Mahboob into the real world, giving him a perpetual spotlight and necessitating almost murky illumination for everyone else; the entire look feels very hermetic and stagey, as if everyone exists in a diorama that can be seen from all sides. Kapoor’s regular music collaborator Sagar Desai delivers amusingly upbeat tunes that add a heightened sense of quirky fun.