How “AK vs AK” Forged A New Bollywood Genre

Vikramaditya Motwane’s new Netflix thriller — also a black comedy, an indictment of Bollywood, and a 108-minute-long inside joke — was seven years in the making.

AK vs. AK feature
Anurag Kashyap and Anil Kapoor in 'AK vs. AK' (Netflix)

Poulomi Das


January 29, 2021

In 2014, Avinash Sampath, an Amsterdam-based advertising professional, had a nutty one-line idea for a movie: what if a director kidnapped an actor’s daughter and then turned the father’s search for her into a movie? Originally from Chennai, Sampath felt that Bollywood had yet to attempt such a thriller and, in a country that glorified its celebrities, a showdown between two would find ample takers. But he had no connections to Bollywood and wasn’t a trained screenwriter. 

So he ended up sending a five-page pitch to Phantom Films (now defunct), a scrappy, new-age production house that emphasized stories over A-list stars. Its films included Lootera (2013), about a heist during the Bengal zamindari age, and Queen (2013), about a woman who is jilted at the altar but goes on her honeymoon, anyway. Two of the four founders were award-winning writer-directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane. 

Sampath heard back from Phantom Films within a week.

Motwane, whose striking directorial debut Udaan premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2010, expressed interest in directing Sampath’s idea. Motwane convinced his long-time collaborator Kashyap, who had just wrapped up Bombay Velvet (2015), to act in it and then approached actor Shahid Kapoor to play the second protagonist. Sampath started working on a screenplay, and the film was christened AK vs SK. “We started shooting for a couple of days in late 2014, but then it sort of fell apart for a host of reasons,” Motwane told me over a phone call, including Shahid Kapoor shooting another film around the same time. 

By 2015, the project was shelved. Motwane had moved on to other projects that cemented his reputation as a risk-taker, across genres. He directed Trapped (2016), a sensational survival thriller, imagined a homegrown superhero in the flawed Bhavesh Joshi (2018), and made his streaming debut a month later by adapting, directing, and showrunning with Kashyap the masterful Sacred Games, which remains Netflix India’s pièce de résistance. Sampath’s script lay unattended in a dusty drawer. 

That changed in October 2019, a few months after Phantom Films disbanded in the wake of sexual assault allegations and internal disagreements. It had been over a year since Motwane had directed a feature, and by his own admission, he was itching to make a film. He reached out to Sampath with a proposal: what if they made that same film with actor Anil Kapoor playing foil to Kashyap? 

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