The poster of “Luck By Chance” suggests it’s a swirly, surrealist tale in which men wear Mad-Hatter hats and women look like vintage dolls. That’s just to lure you in.
Meet Vikram Jaisingh (Farhan Akhtar) who, despite the lines on his far-from-youthful face, is a struggling young actor from New Delhi, wanting to make it in the big bad world of Bollywood. His friends are two other struggling actors, Abhi and Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma), and an aspiring director. These four have no “godfathers” in the film industry and they try to hustle their way out of anonymity by either sucking up (Vikram and the assistant director) or upon the strength of their acting skills (Abhi and Sona). Luck, however, favours only Vikram who not only wins Sona a refrigerator but also lands himself the lead role with a big production house. His personal life goes a little helter-skelter but hey, he’s on the cover of every magazine and his movie is so successful that there are people in Jabbalpur are knifing others to get tickets. While the assistant director and Abhi don’t seem to go anywhere (they’re played by itty-bitty actors so presumably we’re not really supposed to care), Sona earns herself something of a reputation in television, without sleeping with anyone or bullshitting them as Vikram did. The movie ends with a radiant Sona in Zoya Akhtar’s version of the last scene from “Closer” where Natalie Portman strides through crowds.
Here’s the irony. This film is almost entirely made by star kids. Director Zoya Akhtar is the daughter of scriptwriters Honey Irani and Javed Akhtar (who is today the most celebrated lyricist in Hindi films, second only on occasion to Prasoon Joshi). Her brother is Farhan Akhtar, who created a new wave in Bollywood with his debut, the slick and urbane “Dil Chahta Hai”, and so far he hasn’t had an absolute flop as either actor or director. Konkona Sen Sharma is Aparna Sen’s daughter. It may not be Bollywood but I’m willing to wager that having an ambitious and award-winning director for mum helps. The other main roles in the film went to Rishi Kapoor (an absolute delight as the somewhat cuckoo but golden-hearted producer), Sanjay Kapoor (amusing but there’s more hamming in his performance than in most pig farms), Juhi Chawla (very sweet and for those into Bollywood history, they’ll remember she was the star of Darr, which made a random boy from Delhi turned into a star called Shah Rukh Khan) and Dimple Kapadia (she got the vain diva of yesteryears down pat). Hrithik Roshan plays Zafar, a Bollywood pin-up boy who seems to be flicking things from either his mum, sister or girlfriend’s wardrobe.
A quick fact-sheet for those less well-versed with the annals of Bollywood. Rishi Kapoor is the son of Raj Kapoor and grandson of Prithviraj Kapoor. Sanjay Kapoor, a flop actor who nevertheless delivered a hit with his first film opposite Madhuri Dixit, is Anil Kapoor’s brother. Hrithik Roshan’s father is Rakesh Roshan, who was a reasonably popular hero in his time, and his grandfather is Roshan, one of the most famous music directors of old Bollywood. Dimple Kapadia’s family was somehow connected to films (producers or financers, I think, but I’m not sure) and Dimple herself was launched by none other than Raj Kapoor (opposite Rishi Kapoor). Isha Sharvani, who plays her daughter competently in “Luck By Chance” is danseuse Daksha Sheth‘s daughter and was launched with much shebang in Subhash Ghai’s dud film “Kisna”.
The real outsiders are in the two-bit roles. Director Anurag Kashyap is fantastic as the scriptwriter who is given DVDs of Hollywood movies and told to “adapt” them to Bollywood. The lyricist Ankur, who left his small-town home to write songs for movies without his dad’s blessings, plays a casting director. LP, whose name is Lakshmi something in real life and in “Luck By Chance”, plays the assistant director that she is. And of course, there are the two guys playing Vikram’s friends, whose names I don’t know.
If you’ve decided to make a slice-of-life film which isn’t going to be event-driven as much as character-driven, that’s fine. But this means your characters have to evolve, reveal different sides of themselves to the viewer and somehow make an emotional connect with the audience. They have to feel real, and not flat like written characters. To do this, one may have to do more than make people shop for groceries at real stores and have them sit around real restaurants (with the name prominently shown on the coffee cup; neat brand placement).
Sona’s response to losing a film is pretty much the same as her reaction to losing her boyfriend. She’s supposed to have downsized her dreams but that change doesn’t come through in her performance. Vikram is supposed to be a hustler but the point in the film when he really should be hustling like crazy to use the publicity he’s been given to get more (an exposé-esque article accuses him of being a conniving, materialist Lothario and it comes out just before the film), he has a temper tantrum like he had the last time someone criticised him. The other problem is that the only person you really care about in the film is Rishi Kapoor because his performance is charming. The rest of them lack charisma and there’s no chemistry between any of the hot young things, least of all Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma. It would also help if the script didn’t seem as though half of the dialogues came out of a Chinese dinner, by taking down the messages written in the fortune cookies.
Like everything that comes out of Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment, “Luck By Chance” is well-made and much better than average Bollywood fare (perhaps not worthy of the 4 out of 5 stars it’s been awarded by some reviewers but what the heck?). It’s superficial but it’s more real than most commercial Hindi films. “Luck By Chance” tells us film stars are vain, that everyone sucks up to the person just above them in the fame and money chain, that star kids have it easy, that two-bit producers are sleazy. Everyone knows all this but that’s not what makes the film feel like tea from which the tea bag was pulled out too quickly. It’s the script.
This isn’t to say the film is abysmal. It isn’t. Zoya Akhtar’s observation that Bollywood is incredibly insular is bang on. Networks count in every industry, everywhere in the world. The incestuousness of the commercial film world in Mumbai, however, is giving the ancient Egyptian royal family a run for its money. Almost every actor in this business is another actor’s son/daughter or nephew/ niece. The production houses are family businesses. Directors get projects because they’re friends with producers or actors or related to them. Meanwhile, if you look west, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Hollywood A-lister who has a film background (do not point me to Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Martin Sheen; they are not A-listers). Directors and writers emerge from film schools and writing programs. Production houses are begun by entrepreneurs and continued by those who climbed up the ranks. Of course a lot of it is networking but the point is, the networks aren’t closed.