Friday, January 30, 2009

Luck by Chance: why it worked

Zoya Akhtar starts her first outing as a director by quickly establishing the theme of her movie. In a number of scenes and shots, she skewers and then celebrates the Hindi film industry. Her opening credits are a montage that play like a sober version of the end credits of a Farah Khan movie - the crew of all the major film making departments are displayed. This is how a movie comes together, she seems to be saying, and now sit back and watch what happens around it.

In my opinion, its a misstep because it positions the movie as an insider flick as opposed to a drama set in the Bollywood industry. Happily, its Zoya's only fumble. And to be fair, I'll elaborate why.

The early scenes in Zoya's movie are entertaining - but they are too wink wink, Bollywood insider-ish. And as a result, they feel disjointed. The characters come at you in spurts. The sequences don't quite gel together. In the second quarter, Zoya establishes the drama behind her characters - and as soon as she does that, Luck By Chance starts humming along very nicely. The satire feels more organic. As a viewer, I felt much more vested in learning about the industry around the drama.

There are two things to note about Luck By Chance. One is that it is a reasonably gentle movie. There are lots of chuckles rather than laughs. There is head shaking familiarity rather than revelatory insights. There is no viciousness here that hasn't already been internalized by Bollywood. If you follow the Hindi film industry, you don't learn much that you might already not have laughed at over dinner with friends.

Second, for the first half its really an ensemble comedy, settling down in the second half into a drama as the film zeroes in on the lives and times of its two struggling actor protagonists - Farhan Akhtar and Konkana Sen.

In one really nifty sequence, an acting teacher tells Farhan that he's way too understated in his acting - Bollywood heroes need to be much more dramatic. Nicely enough, the movie doesn't fall victim to its own skewers - it opens up Bollywood for us with a rapier rather than a sledgehammer. It stays true to its mellow, amiable heart.

Much fun is had around the whole topic of star kids getting easy breaks and shutting outsiders from the industry. The inside joke here is that Zoya, Farhan and Konkana Sen Sharma have all enjoyed the same privilege they make fun of. Ironically, the only major actor without filmi connections in the film is Isha Sharvani - the girl who plays the star-kid in the movie. But the smarts of the Akhtar family have been established enough that you understand they are aware of this.

Probably the finest trick Zoya has pulled in the movie has been to cast well known industry wallahs in key roles. Sanjay Kapoor, for example, plays a failed star who turns to directing because "that's who he is". Dimple Kapadia plays a star mom. Juhi Chawla plays a sweet tempered, loving socialite who's married a moneybags producer, Rishi Kapoor. Hrithik Roshan plays a mega star playing a role for the first time that he regrets signing up for as soon as he gets a call from Karan Johar about a new project.

What these insiders deliver for Zoya is a hugely lived in feel to the scenes behind the scenes of a movie. Take a terrific scene in which the writer of a film, played by Anurag Kashyap, is trying to get an actress to pronounce the word 'khoon' properly. He eventually gives up, replacing it with the word 'murder' instead. But his expression of disbelief and resignation while he does that is something that comes with hard knocks in this territory.

A quick word on Konkana Sen Sharma - I really didn't warm up to her in Page 3. But she's very nimble here - and unlike in that movie, focuses on her character rather than her scene. Farhan does well too - he's a hugely unique actor, but I'll save my observations for a post some day. The rest of the performances are well calibrated, except Rishi Kapoor - perhaps trying to channel his dad Raj Kapoor - who overacts just enough that you lose touch with his character. Rishi, its still not too late: watch some Boman Irani movies.

28 comments:

Mind Rush said...

Drift saab, Great to see your review. Interesting take although I have some differences of opinion.
First off, I loved the movie enough that I will kiss Zoya Akhtar's ring! Move over AB and company...There's a new First Family in Bollywood.

Why did it work for me? See my next comment...

Mind Rush said...

Why I enjoyed Luck by Chance:
1) Egalitarianism...I loved the rank and file people shown at the beginning.
2) Fresh feminist take on relationships was inspiring.
3) All the cameos and parade of stars kept things interesting. I loved Aamir Khan's look in the movie.
4) While the film has entertainment and paisa vasool formula it also tackles a philosphical question....Luck or dint of effort??
5) Last point--I wondered if the star kid perhaps needs to justify her/his success or lack of it as the case may be. The movie allows one to adopt either/and/or explanation and therefore may give us more inside info than we can even fully appreciate.

musical said...

I am jealous, big time! You already watched the movie! It's not playing anywhere close by here :(.

Very compelling and balanced review. I agree on Konkona, i guess she needs to be given more space for her to do well. I didn't like her much in Page 3 and more so in 15 Park Avenue-i felt she was restricted by the direction style which (like you pointed so well) required her to work on a scene rather than the story. So while i saw spark in some scenes, on the whole the characters didn't grip me. Meethi was such a beautiful character, and you could see Konkona's attachment to it-if only the director would have cared to breathe more life into it, rather than relying on "dark circle under the eye" kind of OTT treatment. But she looks very promising in Luck By Chance trailers.

BigBindi said...

Saw the movie yesterday in our nearby theater. Lurved it! Aspi, I heard about this movie first from the Drift. So thanks!

Anonymous said...

I would say that it's an enjoyable and different film that's still able to capture the masaala formula. Worth a dekho for sure! All my friends are talking about it so I had to see it...

Chevalier said...

Aspi
The only reason I went and watched this film was because I'd read Zoya's interview on your blog :-). And yes, I loved it. What's with women directors making such good spoofs on Bollywood? This is embarrassing, but at the end of the movie as the credits rolled is when I realized that the protagonist is actually Konkana, not Farhan. She's the one who starts and ends the movie; her character's back story is explored (albeit at the very end - why?); we see her character change and evolve, and the audience is left rooting for her - not as much for the charming Vikram.

And as much as I agree that the casting was a huge self-referencing joke, it would've been nice if she'd given some true outsider a chance in the movie...she only considered such 'thaka hua' stars like Vivek Oberoi and Saif.

Aspi said...

Chevaliar, you make a very good point. I agree Konkana was the (main) protagonist. Her role was underwritten for someone that central to a story. And because Zoya focused on dishing the inside dirt in that key first scene, she didn't give the viewer enough time to recognize their primary story teller (Konkana)

j said...

A nice interview with Honey Irani. Did not know Zoya's movie was stalled for seven years. Makes me appreciate her dedication.

http://ia.rediff.com/movies/2009/jan/30honey-irani-on-farhan-zoya-akhtar.htm

Aspi said...

joules thanks for the link! I don't read about Honey Irani enough.

About the seven years: precisely why I titled the Zoya interview the way I did.

Stone said...

All reviews are raving about Farhan or Konkana etc, but I think Isha performed her role beautifully,she managed that dumb+likable balance perfectly.

Few self-mocking acts were also nicely done...like MacMohan's sholay dialogue or Aamir Khan's after-shot scene with Raju Hirani.

And of course, Konkana's dialogues in the end were good too.

meena said...

while its great that women directors are making an impact...for me the movie's best moment came when the acting instructor reacts to what it takes to become a heroine..:)

great write up as usual aspi..

Aspi said...

I agree - that one cracked me up. And so did the MacMohan scene that Stone mentioned.

I also quite liked the cute little dig at Vikram Bhatt. Anyone remember?

Chevalier said...

Oh yes, meena - I forgot to mention that. I was cracking up, a bit loudly I'll admit, at that 'aur heroine banne ke liye? haan, uske liye bhi' line. But everyone else in the theatre seemed to have a weird sense of humor...no one laughed at it!

That, and Karan's movie titled 'Kal Koi Aayega' or wev... Nikki trying to bend & touch her producer's feet....

But given that every incident in the movie was probably based on one or more true-life incidents, I was chilled to the bone at Dimple Kapadia's character's confession right at the end about her mother making her sleep with producers at the age of sixteen...

Deepa said...

Musical, I soooo identify with you.. This movie isn't playing in any of the theatres where I live :-(( It's such a huge disappointment.. But I guess I'll have to live with it..

Aspi, it's a brilliant review and I wish I had something to add to it.. But afsos I can't :-((

But what I have done, is post the link on the Luck By Chance facebook group page. Zoya accesses it regularly so if she hasn't logged on to your site, she'll hopefully see it there :D

Aspi said...

Deepa, I'm glad you liked it and thanks so much for supporting the blog. I'm not sure if Zoya has seen this. But she seems super excited about the response to her movie and its well deserved.

Now I'm about to write something about Farhan parts of which might not go down well with his millions of fans. Come by in a couple of days and slap me around if you feel its deserved.

musical said...

I am waiting for your thoughts on Farhan!

Deepa, i finally found a theater where it's playing locally, but am not sure if it's gonna' stay put till the weekend! Good luck, girl-hope you get to see it. In my case, even if it's playing, i'll have to go alone-sucks big time :(.

Toli said...

I really like the way you review the film without giving away the story, I agree mostly to your observations some I disagree, But a very well written review,
Instead of the usual write the story in bits and pieces reviews I have come across.

Aspi said...

Toli, times have changed but reviewers have not. The stories of most big films are known these days. Those reading the reviews have either seen the film and are looking for some comment or haven't seen the film but are interested enough that they already know the story. So reviews have to accommodate that by not wasting people's time telling them what they already know.

On the other hand if you are reviewing an obscure film - or an old one, retreading the basic story and/or plot points is worth the space.

Deepa said...

You are welcome Aspi.. I like to do a good deed once in a while :-)

Looking forward to your thoughts on Farhan. Yes, you can be sure that his million fans may not appreciate anything 'negative' you write about Farhan.. But I will look forward to it :-)

Musical - you are sooo lucky girl.. I hope you get to see the movie.. I ain't gonna be lucky coz there's absolutely no signs of the movie releasing here :-(( All I can do, is whinge and hope :-(

Cinderella said...

me too waiting for your Farhan's post..he's my latest crush :P

since Rock on, that is....

he should have started acting and hosting shows and dancing loooong before directing movies...

during the movie,i kept waiting when Farhan would dance again...he should have done a full version of bawre:(

and i loved the movie!

Pitu said...

OMG Rishi MADE the movie for me.. I absolutely loved Rommy Rollyji. The entire theater was cackling when he'd come on screen :D And the movie totally belonged to Koko rather than Farhan. As for Farhan's supposed 'hotness' (eye roll) put him next to sex-on-legs Hrithik Roshan and he totally blends into the background :-p

And frankly, I would be more than happy if the Akhtars replace the Bachchans as the 'fist family' or whatev. At least the Akhtars have talent :-p

Pitu said...

err not 'fist', 'first family' :D

Aspi said...

No, he was cute and all that. But the overacting part had already been reserved by Sanjay Kapoor. And it suited him well because directors are predisposed to his kind of behavior way more than producers are. So Rishi got that part a bit wrong. He was trying to play a producer-director types.

And to paraphrase what one Bollywood mahapurush once said: "Ek pikchar mein sirf ek hi overactor ho sakta hai"

meena said...

Everytime Rishi came on screen I was thinking- 'Subhash Ghai' :)

Aspi said...

I might have enjoyed that movie more if I had thought of Subhash Ghai when Rishi showed up. We all know Ghai was the poor man's Raj Kapoor.

Heh heh, I love saying nonsensical things that have enough truth to give people pause.

Anonymous said...

What's the cute dig at Vikram Bhatt? I thought long and hard--but couldn't remember.

Aspi said...

There's that bit related to the grandfather clock - where Vikram Bhatt's movie is shooting but the man is out all week :)

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