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With the help of family and twenty Indian superstars, director Zoya Akhtar shows us the dark side of climbing the Bollywood ladder in her debut film Luck By Chance.
Two years after the stellar success of Om Shanti Om, director Zoya Akhtar takes on a similar task, exploring the behind-the-scenes of Bollywood in her debut movie Luck By Chance. She has big shoes to fill, but Akhtar should have no fears of comparisons, as her portrayal of the Hindi film industry is miles apart from, if not the exact opposite of, its sugar-coated predecessor. Instead of indulging in its own glitz and glam, Luck By Chance thrives in a chilling realism -- with no guarantee of a happy ending and 20 well-chosen superstar cameos that not only work to publicize the film but actually play key roles in the film.
In Mumbai, a struggling actor Vikram Jaisingh (Farhan Akhtar) is waiting for a break. Along comes Sona Mishra (Konkona Sen Sharma), a starlet who spent three years sleeping with a producer for the promise of a lead role. Bonded by their common dream, the two fall in love as they tumble their way through the impenetrable forest of Bollywood. With strange destiny and a bit of craftiness, Vikram lands a leading role after super star Zaffar Khan (Hrithik Roshan) drops out of old-school producer Romy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor)'s promising hit. Tempted by his quick fame, Vikram puts his conscience aside and climbs his way up, trampling anything that gets in his way, including love and friendship.
Though a movie about dreamers, Luck By Chance allows no indulgence in fantasy. In the opening, the film lures viewers into a gorgeous set with Victorian architecture, glittering sarees and a dashing Aamir Khan, only to have it stopped abruptly with a loud "Cut!." The extravagant circus number "Baawre," which looks like a cross between Moulin Rouge and Cirque Du Soleil, also vaporizes upon a quick unexpected span to the film crew. Any lingering in the awesome illusion of cinematic magic is not allowed in the film, and in the characters' reality, dreams are short lived and almost juvenile.
Unlike Om, Vikram cannot wait for a miraculous reincarnation into the Kapoor family. Vikram has only one audition to make his own fame. Instead of catching lady luck's saree by simply reaching out his hand, Vikram cooks up a plan, puts on a sweet smile and kisses up until Neena Walia (Dimple Kapadia), the powerful diva turns producer, is charmed enough to recommend him. As viewers are shown the perspective of the choosers and the chosen, we see the making and breaking of a dream, casually decided over champagne and card games. In this brutal world where hard work doesn't pay off, the winner is -- like Romy Rolly says -- the one who happens to be at "the right place at the right time." As we watch Vikram grow from opportunistic to down right manipulative, we see innocence devoured by the hunger for success.
To burst even more bubbles, Zoya Akhtar puts in 20 mega star cameos, including Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham, Rani Mukherjee, Kareena Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna, Vivek Oberoi, as well as the director's father and prominent lyricist Javed Akhtar, all acting as themselves. Though still short of Om Shanti Om's 31, Luck By Chance's cameos don't just show up to dance; their short but relevant appearances further blur the real world with the reel world. Zoya pokes fun at the struggle of contemporary Hindi films against conventional Bollywood by casting Anurag Kashyap, who is known for writing unconventional Hindi films, to play a frustrated writer ridiculed for his "film school" ideas. Filled with reference and tongue-in-cheek humor for those knowledgeable of the genre, the cameos also deliver important messages that are personally tailored. In one remarkable scene, Vikram runs into Shah Rukh Khan in a lounge. For one magical moment, the audience's emotions were in perfect sync with Vikram; the whole theatre takes a deep breath with him as he nervously approaches the King of Bollywood. As Shah Rukh lectures the young star about the "intoxicating cocktail called fame," his message of "never forgetting those who stood by you while you were nobody" becomes especially poignant as Mushtaq Sheikh, a dear friend of Khan and writer of Om Shanti Om is shown right next to him.
Besides the complex layers of reality in this film, Luck By Chance has its own share of irony in its very own production. While satirizing the family-based monopolizing of Bollywood, Farhan happens to be the brother of director Zoya Akhtar, who in turn is the daughter of prominent lyricist Javed Akhtar. But the casting of the multi-talented, director-turned-Rock On!-hearthrob Farhan Akhtar is not as obvious as it seems. In a scene from Luck By Chance, Karan Johar comments on the quick rise of Vikram: “The only way an outsider will ever get a break is when a big name refuses a negative role.” This is in reference to Zaffar Khan (Hrithik Roshan), whose opting out of Rolly’s film has open the gate for Vikram. Johar cites the example of Shah Rukh Kahn and Amitabh Bachchan, whose breakthrough roles were characters abandoned by heros of their time. Not only does the statement ring true in the movie, the same formula works in the making of this film, as Zoya Akhtar encountered much difficulty casting the two leading roles. Akhtar initially casted Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi as Vikram, but both disliked the struggler role and requested a change of script. Finally, they decided to cast Farhan, who is well known behind the scenes but is still a fresh face for the general audience. For Sona, Akhtar approached Madhuri Dixit and Tabu but eventually picked Konkona Sen Sharma. Talk about art imitating life and vice versa. In the self reflexiveness of Luck By Chance, it is uncanny details like this that make you really wonder: how can one tell the difference between the real world and the reel world?
Luck By Chance does not end with a notion of hope nor a celebration of love conquering all. The dreamer with a belly full of passion doesn't magically succeed, so he turns into a opportunist with a belly full of tricks. The struggler has become a winner, but in the process, innocence is irreversibly lost. The grinding mechanism of Bollywood pushes some to the top and crashes the others along the way, yet fame and shame are just as fleeting. While Luck by Chance satirizes and exposes the underbelly of Bollywood, it's also as timely as ever in this crumbling global economy. While millions of people in the job market are waiting for luck by chance, one doesn’t have to be an Hindi film junior artist, or an anxious film school graduate to understand the yearning for a silver lining.
Date Posted: 2/6/2009