Have you ever seen a movie that you enjoyed so much, you kind of forgot to care about the movie itself? It’s a little weird. It happened to me for the first time this week while watching Zoya Akhtar’s debut movie Luck by Chance.
The movie’s plot is simplicity itself: boy from Delhi comes to big, bad Bombay with stars in his eyes and capitalizes on a couple of lucky breaks to claw his way to the top. But, “context is everything” as they say.
And the context, in this case, is the movie business – Zoya’s World, you could call it. It’s like watching an anthropological case study that subtly hits on pretty much everything you ever wondered about Hindi cinema. To touch upon just a few:
The Portraits – There is this rule that set designers on Hindi movies, but especially Hindi TV shows, follow: the living space of a character MUST be decorated with multiple headshots and cheesy portraits of said character. Occasionally they will feature said character’s nearest and dearest, but only when the script jumps up on a couch and yells for it. Dominating the scene otherwise will be giant poster-sized images of that person by himself (and it usually is a ‘he’). The more “cool” or desirable the character, the bigger and more thickly dispersed the photographs. The implied narcissism has apparently never occured to any of them. Luck by Chance‘s repeated use of this rule is nothing less than brilliant.
“Yeh tum logon ka racket hai, Manish Malhotra!” – Indeed. And did anybody else notice the birkin on the sickbed? Priceless!
The Casting Couch – what struck me the most about the proposition scene was its finesse. There was no leering, no twirling of the moustache, no talk of “assets”. There’s apparently a script in place. And the woman doesn’t think of herself as a victim either: she knows exactly what it is, what the parameters for their “relationship” are, and what she hopes to get out of it. And she doesn’t shy away from verbalizing it either when pressed on it. Nor does her date express shock, awe or even a demand that she reform her sinful ways.
The Accent – nothing kills my joy in a movie faster than watching some himbo / bimbo lisp his / her way through Hindi as though they’d been plucked from a remote hamlet on the Alps and asked to elocute Tulsidas’ Ramayan on the spot. If you want to be in Hindi language cinema, then for the love of God, learn to speak the frickin’ language. Would you audition for a Hollywood movie with a Laloo Prasad Yadav accent? Then why would you audition for a Bollywood movie with a George Bush accent? It is my “cub-surat kwab” that one day a maddened linguist will be driven to ‘khune’ by this continued outrage.
The Selfish Gene – the loveliest part of the entire movie arrives when Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma) tells Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) where he can stick it. And then sits down next to him, takes his hand and tells him not to sweat it because he is who he is. It is such a beautiful character defining moment, all the better for being so tiny and so perfect. If Vikram wasn’t in love with her before that, I bet he was afterwards.
Luck by Chance is a collection of a long string of entertaining moments like these, held loosely together by the overall story arc of an outsider forcing his way into a tight clique.
Admittedly though, I was initially reeled in by the sheer pleasure of watching someone like Farhan, who oozes The New Sensibility, go through the bump-n-grind of turning into your average Bollywood ka Hero. The beefcake shots in particular were an absolute joy – and made all the better when it turned out the movie was in on the joke. But the indulgence with which I’d begun watching his performance changed by the end of the movie – somewhere along the way, perhaps when Vikram walks into Nikki’s (the adorable Isha Sharvani) My Little Pony of a room for the first time, I began watching it with the same kind of fascination that makes me pick up a copy of gossip rags like Filmfare or Stardust.
Which is to say, I don’t particularly care for any of these people but their kind of zoo is a lot more interesting to me than watching sad animals cooped up in a cage. Perhaps the cast was merely doing what came naturally to them, but be that as it may, there isn’t an actor in the lot who didn’t step up.
In the words of Romy Rolly, the roly-poly veteran Bollywood producer played by Rishi Kapoor, Zoya is clearly a “vol-CANO of talent (write it down!)”. If brother Farhan is to be believed (and why shouldn’t he be?), she spent seven years nursing the script and plotting the birth of this movie, and it’s clear she didn’t spend all that time dreaming about the cool outfit she was going to wear to her first premiere.
Zoya Akhtar and her crew have made the best kind of debut film: Luck by Chance makes you glad that this is merely the beginning of a hopefully long career.