Zoya Akhtar's Luck By Chance (2009) is a film about films. Actors play actors; writers play writers and a costume designer plays a costume designer. Then there is a plethora of actors playing themselves. It is meta maxed out. The last time we saw something similar was when Akhtar's maternal cousin Farah Khan directed the tentpole entertainer Om Shanti Om, in which Shah Rukh Khan played Om and Om. OSO went on to become 2007's highest money-spinner despite clashing with Saawariya. The film also introduced Deepika Padukone to the world. If nothing else, it was enjoyed for its unabashed and unapologetic parodying of the film industry and the meta-textual nature.
Luck By Chance was a more profound and comprehensive account of the inner functioning of the Hindi film industry. We see the film as outsiders, lifting the curtains to peek into this circus called Bollywood. Unlike OSO, Luck By Chance was an unfortunate failure at the box-office, with only film critics and cinephiles lapping it up.
Luck By Chance starts off on a heartbreakingly honest note. Sona Mishra (an endearing Konkana Sen Sharma) is in a meeting with a producer, hopeful of a meaty role in one of his upcoming films. The predatory producer Satish Chaudhry (Ally Khan) assures her that he'll cast her on the condition that she sticks close to him. After all, an artist has to be intimate with the filmmaker, he says. Sexual exploitation? Check! Sona is not naive. She gets the hint and the joy of being promised a prominent role is gradually wiped off her face. Sona does not detest the proposition, neither is she angered or disgusted. She was probably prepared for such an encounter the moment she stepped out of Kanpur. Stories of the casting couch have travelled far and beyond the filmy circles of Bombay. Ally Khan's potrayal of a predatory producer is noteworthy. He is not the stereotypical, overtly expressive middle-aged producer who smirks creepily. He is not a producer who inappropriately touches or tries to grope aspiring actors the first time he meets them. He is a product of the institutionalised sleaze. Only if the #MeToo movement had begun in 2009.
Three years later, we are introduced to Vikram Jaisingh (an earnest Farhan Akhtar), a boy from Delhi trying to make it big as an actor. We see him do the outsider's routine. A diploma in acting from an institute where Mac Mohan (Sambha from Sholay) is invited as a guest lecturer, photo shoots for a portfolio, trying to build contacts and biceps and visiting production houses uninvited to land a role, any role. He befriends Sona, who is still waiting for the big-ticket film Chaudhry promised her. They strike a bond almost instantly. After all, who understands a struggler better than a fellow struggler? There is also Vikram's childhood friend Abhi, who has the arrogance of being a better actor since he belongs to theatre.
We see Nikki Walia (Isha Sharvani) gearing up for her debut film Dil Ki Aag opposite Zafar Khan, played by an easy-on-the-eyes Hrithik Roshan. Zafar desperately wants to opt out of the film for another film helmed by Karan Johar, which obviously stars Shah Rukh Khan. While Sona and Vikram run from pillar to post for their big break, Nikki is gifted this opportunity by the virtue of being veteran actress Neena Walia's (Dimple Kapadia) daughter. Nepotism? Check! Zafar eventually walks out and the hunt for a replacement begins.
This brings me to the achingly delicious Sapno Se Bhare Naina. Vikram is called in to audition after his pictures end up on casting table through sheer luck. There is visible confidence in his brisk walk up to the audition room, almost as if he has been called in to sign the final contract. This is the first time we see Vikram go for an audition, which is an otherwise daily affair for aspiring actors. He enters the room and is suddenly taken aback. His expression is starkly similar to that of Sona's, when she was asked to compromise by the B-movie producer. In the room, a hundred odd boys wait for their turn to prove their mettle as an actor, each one cut from a different cloth. Vikram shows up in worn-out shoes. He takes a good look at the room and realises that his chances of bagging the role are as good as anybody's.
Just as he starts filling his form, a fellow auditionee approaches him. The boy wants his form filled out since he can neither read nor write in English. You know for sure that this sincere-looking chap has no future even if he is tremendously talented. Because remember "talent kisko chahiye"? A series of auditions begin. From models to theatre actors, from freshers to one-TV-commercial-in-two-years types. The room is a perfect sample space for a survey on aspiring actors. A room filled with desperately-desperate people. Vikram later visits the restroom to give himself a wake up call after seeing a more muscular guy walk in for the audition. Vikram knows that if this guy opposite him is even half as good an actor as Vikram thinks he is, he would get the part. I could write a whole piece on the song itself. On Javed Akhtar's hauntingly truthful lyrics. On Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's poignant music. Vikram eventually bags the lead role after outwitting his opponent. Every move he makes is calculated. For him, this was no less than a game of chess (we see him and Abhi play chess when he meets Sona for the first time).
Zoya Akhtar's skillful and sharp writing is adorned with interesting anecdotes and personal observations. In one scene, Chaudhry mentions the word "Bollywood", to which Kapadia's character retorts that it is the 'Hindi film industry'. It reminded me of Javed Akhtar politely schooling a popular TV news anchor during an interview for using the same term.
Dil Ki Aag begins shooting at a hilltop in Lonavala. For the longest time in the 90s and early 00s, the scenic hills of Lonavala were passed of as the Swiss Alps to heighten the feeling of romance in Hindi movies. Lonavala was the spatial equivalent of a virginal love until commercialisation happened to the small town. In hindsight, even the casting of the film seems to be intentionally ironic and outright smart. The son of legendary screenwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar plays a boy with no connections to the film industry. It helps that Farhan Akhtar does not look like the typical film royalty kid born to star in Hindi films. The daughter of film director, screenwriter and actor Aparna Sen plays an outsider too. Once again, it helps that the dusky Konkana looks like someone who may have come from Kanpur. Hrithik Roshan also plays outsider Zafar Khan, who says that he is working for the image of Zafar Khan The Superstar. Isha Sharvani, an outsider in real life, plays the star kid in the film. After all, being born into film royalty is also sheer luck by chance. Her only worry is that her acting will be compared to her mother's. It is sad to note that Sharvani has only two Hindi films to her credit post Luck By Chance and her career never really took off even after a decent performance.