It had to take new blood to infuse new life into cinema. And this is going to be a cracker of an year for the Bollywood, I can just feel it. The corporate bubble’s burst, the ridiculously over-paid and over-exposed male troika have whored their brand value to the point where their very name on the credits make discerning viewers shun the thought of seeing the movie on the big screen, and the turf is spectacularly fertile for new ideas, new ways of storytelling, new brand of acting and emoting. In all, Bollywood’s foray into avant garde cinema this time around will be more creative. It is an exciting time at the movies and what better movie to spearhead the new year than Luck By Chance.
LBC isn’t perfect but its sensibilities and aesthetic reek of refinement and level-headed-ness seldom seen in Indian cine,a. Chartering the graph of a struggling actor and a starlet in the world of Hindi film industry, it has the familiar trappings to eke out drama-success morphing a person, the familiar growing-up lessons where the protagonist gets carried away and then retreads his steps. But, and this is a huge one, the screenplay is unflinching in offering not redemption, but a bittersweet realisation. In fact it does one better and switches perspective completely in the final 10 minutes as we have the homecoming star doing a heartfelt guilt-ridden speech to his erstwhile sweetheart who believed in him when no-one else did. The girl buys the earnestness of the apology no doubt, but not the guy’s reasons and point of view. And she tells him outright, it is none of his fault either, it is really how some people are. Its all about them. The guy weeps. It is sad to be told that, especially in a weak moment. She looks away not wanting the emotion of the moment to cloud her voice of reason. And from then on, the whole perspective of the movie changes as we have a really wise monologue from the girl who’s at peace with who she is, what she has achieved in life and her definitions of “success” and “failure”, two words this movie and its characters are obsessed with. That, and luck. And rightly so, given the context of India and the soul-shatteringly competitive world of Bollywood.
Other than the novel graph and the final act, the movie plays like an unpretentious insider’s view of the insider and is blessed with splendid wit and intelligence. I mean, the lady manages to pull a Gervais on Bollywood in her debut stroke. And so expertly at that. Just look at the credits of the four cameos-Aamir (playing himself as the uber-perfectionist auteur in a delicious period piece directed by Raju Hirani no less), ShahRukh (playing the familiar grounded superstar forever ready to spill life’s truisms), Kareena, Diya Mirza (the latter taking not even a dialogue to chew everything around her-her reaction at the grand inaugration party to Farhan’s character is piece de resistance) and Anurag Kashyap (watch him suggest an artsy script-addition at which he gets rebuked by Rishi Kapoor who takes dig at his festivalesque sensibilities or get vexed over the star-daughter’s Hindi pronounciation-so much so he has to change the word khoon to murder, clearly an in-dig at Javed Akhtar’s obsession with language). There’s Karan Johar and Manish Malhotra too spilling some inside beans or having a giggle on the in-jokes. You can even spot Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi (I think this is the first time I have seen her not say a dialogue on camera) sharing industry jokes.
Not only that, it is the level of performance she has managed to juice out of every one of the actors that makes me admire her. Every character is perfectly cast or is cast and written around their strengths (Yea, I will stick to the latter explanation thanks to all those casting stories I have read in Zoya’s soundbytes in the last 4-5 years) and the end-result is excellent. The ensemble looks so comfortably cosetted in the film’s environment, you just believe them from the word go. Its difficult to choose who comes up trumps but the motley of 10 performers that people most of LBC’s frames all have their charms. Farhan Akhtar’s got the face of an actor-that which folds and screws itself up on every expression and he is intelligent enough to know it. His character arc is probably the most familiar but his underplay and approach to projecting emotions is refreshing, although his voice undoes quite a lot of his scenes which play like extensions of his ego-clashes in Rock On or the arguments he might have in real life. He is more or less playing himself in these movies and is lucky enough to have the clout who can write material around him. Still, there isn’t a dint of complacency and he’s sincere all the way through. For Konkona Sen, Sona is a cakewalk. She plays it straight mostly as her character requires her to, and I wasn’t bowled over by her characterisation at first which played as an extension of her other urban angsty characters, but the final showdown right uptil the credits is all hers. This extra layer of borderline-unlikeability of this now-hardened egg challenges you and it is to Koko’s credit, you are able to see this change in hers. That and the one scene where she slams the mag on the face of her snooping-journo-friend in his office has a believable dramatic flourish.
And then there are the supporting performers. All brilliant. All totally tuned-in and pitch-perfect to the last decibel. There’s Rishi Kapoor as the old-school-producer who can talk the talk but is exasperated by the present-day workings (watch him explain how much he paid the now-superstar in his first film and getting all animated, swivelling in chair for effect to Farhan–its comedy genius! Or when he refuses the skimpily clad Isha to not touch his feet, I died laughing!), then his airy-fairy numerology-astology-swearing socialite wife played with smiles-forever Juhi Chawla who just radiates the frame with her harmless, thankless presence only once coming to foreground to hold her husband’s hand in that one crucial moment he gets all sour with the world around him. Then there is Hrithik Roshan playing a warped version of himself (in true Extras style)- the superstar who secretly leaps on knowing a colleague’s been through an accident but is introspective enough to know the current project is proper sh*t on toast and what it would do to his image (the monologue to his producer-Rishi Kapoor is hilarious of why he can’t continue is well done). The star manages a time out with the urchins across the window of his 4×4 when he’s tired from whining about his delusory director and it made me glad no end that Mr Roshan finally did something as real as this after some 5 years of treating us with bloated, over-budget pap.
Sanjay Kapoor as the delusional debutante director who’s managed a break thanks to his influential brother (oh the in-digs never end!), and finally the fiery mother-daughter duo played with relish by Dimple Kapadia (watch her bare her fangs as a scoop on her debutante daughter makes it to a cinemag or revel in the ass-kissing courtesy Farhan, and her suspicions and the way she observes and reacts to people-ah just to watch this lady perform I can see LBC again) and Isha-Kisna-Shravani (Man, how my heart ached as I watched her do the ridiculous sidekick routine in last year’s stinker U Me Aur Hum and how it made me smile to see her perform so ably-she brings to LBC what Amy Adams brings to most of her movies-she’s at once gorgeous, hilarious, dumb, disillusioned-the insufferable hormonal bimbo with much beneath the surface, I loved her). Then there are the guys playing Farhan’s friends (one a depressing idealist, the other a lightweight opportunist) and then there’s this all-heart woman playing Aly Khan’s wife… I could go on and on.
The movie’s canvas is very varied, and when it occasionally switches gears to pay ode to the ever-reliable dance routine it does it with a tinge of its own brand of craziness. Baawre is like Dholi Taaro imagined by Wachowskis. And I loved it. The whole carnival feel, the mad choreography, the funny lines, the hilarious choice of fabrics and Hrithik managing to make even the most audacious of moves look amazing. Attaboy! And yes, how can we not do without that one number playing in the background to manipulate us into feeling for the guy on screen? So we have an expected lyrical delight Sapnon se Bhare Naina as Farhan Akhtar enters the derelict audition studio which is chock-full with boys as driven, as struggling as him. And the whole realisation comes like a waterfall… there are loads like him, in fact worse off than he is and probably even more driven, how is he going to impress in this competition? Will his luck bail him out? Its a beautiful moment and thankfully pondered over for the whole five minutes of the terrific song.
And most of all the film’s tone, its visual and acoustic mood treads a fine balance between stark realism and escapist fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor has used the backdrop of Bollywood to extract laughs (I think I have had my fill thanks to OSO and the endless TV comedy shows). It manages to be something more- lofty (one’s path in life dictated by random strokes of chance or one’s choices or a bit of both?), surreal and wistful (the opening credits have to be seen to be believed). What remains consistent throughout is the warmth in the movie’s tone. The characters are all lovingly sketched and it is a movie that has terrific repeat-value because its so well-written and so well-directed. Its not perfect, it feels at times a tad long and indulgent (nothing unusual considering this is Zoya Akhtar’s first labour of love), but its got the subtlety and understanding for the medium that it is inhabiting and satirising at once that exploitative jerks like Bhandarkar can’t even touch. Easily one of the most emotionally evolved and layered urbane dramadies to come out of Bollywood. Kudos to the Akhtar tribe for adding so much to Indian cinema.
My rating: *** and 1/2 out of 5