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.