I have a special fondness for films about films. Because they speak to my love not just for the movies but also for the film industry, for the men and women who create our celluloid dreams. One of my favorites is Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance released in 2009.

Luck by Chance is the story of two outsiders in Bollywood. Sona is a small-town girl. Vikram moves to Mumbai from Delhi. Both are chasing that elusive dream of stardom. Briefly, their paths cross – they find solace and a connection. But showbiz is a difficult, dirty business that inevitably demands a Faustian bargain – your soul in exchange for fame, riches and eternal life – on screen at least.

The Hindi film industry is a low-hanging fruit for comedy. It’s so outlandish and gaudy that it’s almost too easy to make fun of it. But Zoya, who grew up here, comes from a place of compassion. So her characters are memorably funny but also quietly tragic. The best among them is the producer Romy Rolly, played superbly by Rishi Kapoor.

Rolly ji just wants to make a hit film. He unapologetically chases success instead of excellence. So he consults a pundit, wears the requisite rings, does the pooja and casts the talent-free star daughter. His curly mop and desperate manner make him instantly comic. But Zoya also gives him an unexpectedly moving moment in which we see him weep because a star, who he nurtured, won’t call him back. Romy weeps and says: Koi izzat nahin rahi meri.

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The other stand-out is Dimple Kapadia as the ferocious mother of the heroine. Again a character bordering on caricature. Romy describes her a crocodile in chiffon. This is a woman who tells her daughter – there is a lot of money riding on your waistline. Neena is easy to dislike. But the film doesn’t allow us to do that because it shows us the scars underneath her brittle exterior.

Luck by Chance combines insight with laugh-out-loud humor. Observe the little moments – like the heroine Nikki trying to touch Rolly ji’s feet but failing because her outfit is too tight. Or this amazing montage of a slew of heroes rejecting Rolly ji’s film – Abhishek Bachchan playing himself of course ends it with: Dad was asking about you.

Zoya calls out the nepotism, insecurity, mediocrity, competition and flat-out foolishness of Bollywood and yet, Luck by Chance is a love letter, which ends on a note of hope. There is a heart-breaking moment in which Sona tearfully tells a producer that she has talent and he replies, “Woh kisse chahiye?” But eventually, she redefines the meaning of success for herself and us.

Not enough people saw Luck by Chance when it released. I think this film was ahead of its time. I urge you to find it on Amazon Prime.

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