The opening scene of director Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance sets the mood for the two-and-half hours or so that follow. In this scene Konkona Sensharma who stars as a struggling actress finds herself being indirectly and indecently propositioned by a sleazy film producer. It's a humorous scene because the casting couch is one of Bollywood's oldest clichés and because Aly Khan who plays the producer in question, performs that scene remarkably, giving her just the kind of smarmy lines you know you should never believe. But that scene is also dark and disturbing at the same time, especially when the camera stays on Konkona's uncomfortable expression in the end. You realise she wants the job so bad, she's going to accept his advances knowing fully well she's doing something wrong.
Luck By Chance is an insider look at Bollywood, and about making it in the big, bad world of showbiz. And indeed it's a bad world. A world where friends are used and abused, where lovers are replaced overnight, where mothers manipulate their daughters, and where you're only as important as your last hit. At the same time, director Zoya Akhtar's affection for the film industry is evident in her comic, often lovable take on the business and its people who she's observed so closely as an insider herself. The film then is a deeply layered portrait of an industry quite unlike any other, a sharp observation of the grime behind the glamour, the insecurities behind the smiling faces.
The film follows Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sensharma, both playing wannabe actors, who walk the walk and talk the talk and do everything it takes to realise their dreams. Both compromise on their principles to get ahead, but while one is successful, the other is not quite, this disparity ultimately driving a wedge through their relationship.
Intuitively written by Akhtar herself, Luck By Chance is both insightful and funny. The film serves up a palette of colorful characters who may seem like caricatures on the outside but come packed with emotional depth and even a tinge of sad back-story. Chief among these is greasy old-school film producer Romi Rolly (played astoundingly by Rishi Kapoor) who, at one point we see break down when a superstar he created won't return his calls. Or the yesteryear siren-turned-pushy star-mum (played by Dimple Kapadia) who makes a shocking confession when confronted by her exasperated daughter.
Akhtar also succeeds in keeping the mood light when necessary, packing a bagful of in-jokes, several delivered by the very characters they're aimed at. It's sporting of Sanjay Kapoor to play the failed actor brother of a big producer who turns his sights to direction, or Anurag Kashyap who's cast as the writer-with-a-serious-bent bullied into plagiarizing a foreign film, or even Hrithik Roshan as the superstar heartthrob caught up in his own image.
Prepare to be pleasantly surprised by all the stars who make fleeting cameos, and watch how cleverly Akhtar uses them - Akshaye Khanna forever the pensive, indecisive fellow, Aamir Khan the actor never entirely satisfied with his shot, and Abhishek Bachchan who knows how to politely say no and who ends every conversation with an affectionate hello from his daddy.
Despite its languid pace, Luck By Chance is rarely boring because it's got a solid story at its heart and the characters arouse such empathy. The film is helped considerably by razor-sharp dialogue and keen casting, and the acting is consistently first-rate. Farhan Akhtar delivers a simple-enough likeable performance that is just what the film required - no showy flourishes, no loud outbursts, just a straight off spontaneous act that works like a dream. Konkona Sensharma proves yet again she's the go-to-girl for complex, layered characters, and she does a swell job of investing heart and poignancy into the picture. In smaller roles, Juhi Chawla shines as the doting Mrs Rolly, and Isha Sharwani hits the right note as the not-very-bright star-kid; Dimple Kapadia is terrific as the has-been star who is so easily seduced by a youngster's praise; and Hrithik Roshan never disappoints, in fact look out for that scene in which he responds to street urchins from inside his car, he's an actor who doesn't need dialogue to communicate. A word of praise also for the lesser-known but abundantly talented Arjun Mathur who so convincingly portrays Farhan's friend and fellow acting aspirant who clashes with him. My personal favorite though remains Rishi Kapoor who leaves his stamp all over the film as the hilarious Romi Rolly.
A significant debut by director Zoya Akhtar, Luck By Chance is heartwarming and heart-breaking in equal measures; look closely at those layers beneath the laughs. An impressive achievement both in writing and direction, the film is full of witty moments and sharp observations that stay with you, starting with the opening credits sequence which is the best I've in years. ((pause)) I'm going with four out of five and two thumbs up for director Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance, it's that rare Hindi film that deserves a repeat viewing just to savour its charm all over again.
Rating: 4 / 5 (Very Good)
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