Zoya Akhtar's debut film Luck by Chance (2009) starring Konkona Sen Sharma and Farhan Akhtar presents a nuanced portrayal of human fate as a dialogue between purpose and destiny. The film juxtaposes these two positions through the characters of Sona Mishra and Vikram Jaisingh. Solely based on the surface, it is convenient to conclude that one of them was provided with the more difficult path and could only go so far, while the other shot to stardom because of his lucky stars. Nonetheless, a more detailed inspection of their journeys reveals the complicated phenomenon that is human life. The popular interpretation of success is rooted merely in positive financial outcomes. However, in this article, I explore the moments that occur before and after these opportunities and their significance in the lives of Sona and Vikram.
Both the characters are introduced in the phase of their struggle toward entering the Hindi film industry. However, it is immediately evident that their experiences are distinct. Sona, a young woman, had left her home in Kanpur and has not been contacted by her parents since. She was never ridiculed or criticized by anyone because there was nobody looking out for her in the foreign city of Mumbai. Instead, she met a sleazy small-time producer, Satish Chaudhary and decided to rely on his words. She had no prior experience or expertise but marched forward with faith in her talent.
Vikram is a well-spoken boy whose father owns a successful business in Delhi. He has friends in Mumbai and lives in the comfortable home of his aunt. His family and friends criticize his aspirations but also loan him money and lodging when required. He has the capability to enrol in an acting institute and receives training in acting, dance and martial arts. It is not that his journey is easy, but Akhtar skilfully acknowledges the disparity that exists even within the clusters that society constructs — in this case, the cluster of 'struggling actors'.
There are two moments of chance that play a role in each of their lives, through each other. Vikram fills up a form on Sona's behalf for a new refrigerator. She needs a fridge but says that since it is a lottery, the chances of her winning are slim. He exclaims that she only has no chance if she does not fill up the form. It is also then that she tells him that she is not fluent enough in English to come up with a caption. He thinks of one instantly. She wins the fridge and finally realizes that one needs to purchase a ticket to even have the hope of winning the most outlandish lottery.
Alternatively, Vikram's fortune turns in the instant that Sona experiences the failure of not being offered a role in Satish's venture, something that was promised to her three years ago. It was also Sona's dignity that stops her from exposing Satish's reality to his wife, Pinky at the moment. Instead, she leaves Vikram's pictures with them, requesting any opportunity, which is how he arrives at his first audition. These two moments mirror each other with similar outcomes but of different magnitudes. One of those is considered a success (a film), the other trivial (a fridge).
It is inevitable that a person's approach to life is heavily shaped by their life experiences and inherent personality, which is what we observe in these two characters. Their principal traits profoundly influence their rise and fall. Vikram is a hustler, a conqueror with a burning fire within him. He is the struggling-nobody with the courage to approach successful stars at a party, even at the risk of humiliating himself. He is also an astute observer of human behaviour; he realises that in order to acquire Nikki Walia's attention, he needs to charm her mother, Neena Walia. He is willing to misdirect his fellow actors if that improves his chances and ditch his friends if he is invited for a drink with Shah Rukh Khan. This attitude helps him reach the top while simultaneously alienating people along the way.
Sona has been alone and experiences attachment with strangers she has met in the city, her neighbours, friends and mentor. This attachment is also what compelled her to wait for Satish's film rather than move forward on her own. However, her other connections support her through her struggles and share her joys. When Vikram turns her away, her choreographer friend, Laxmi, provides her with a place to stay. Her friend Tanveer, writes a takedown story about Vikram when he learns that he has broken her heart, only to be beaten up by her because she was blamed for it. Instead of being angry, he clears her name. The neighbour who has been charging Sona money to let her use her fridge is overjoyed when Sona wins a new one. She is unable to reach the top but treads every step with companionship.
We live in an outcome-oriented world and a successful outcome is always a more welcome conclusion than failure. Yet, Akhtar provides an alternate perspective on success. Vikram achieves the opportunity that all struggling actors are seeking. He signs a film which is a hit and is welcomed into the industry. In the final scene, he appears solo on a massive billboard. Sona has not achieved her break as a Hindi film heroine and has made her peace with the knowledge that she probably never will. She is working in TV soaps and earns a good living. She has been struggling for more years than him and has been in the city longer, yet her poster is nowhere except in her room. It is easy to evaluate who is the success story between them from a professional perspective. Yet Akhtar urges us to look beyond.
In the last scene that we see them together, Vikram is in tears and looks down ashamed while Sona turns away from him. For the final shot, we see him on the massive billboard, eminent and colossal, but also alone. Then we see Sona, the person, taking a taxi to Film City. She is independent and earns her own living. We see her smiling with contentment. It is the word that Vikram had condemned, as a lack of fire which interrupts success. But is that not success? Not the professional kind, but the human kind. It is about being successful in achieving happiness, being your own self, having the clarity of your soul and not being blinded by the glare of triumphant success. Through Sona's journey and her shift in perspective, Akhtar provides an alternate 'happy ending' for the character which is not about signing a film or marrying a boy. Sona appears in both the first and final shot of the film and we realize that the story was about her. Vikram happened to her, as did Satish, as did her fridge. But it is she who remains, not the image, but the person.
I first watched the film thirteen years ago as a teen. I had liked the film but was indignant at the storyteller for granting the lying, cheating, selfish boyfriend the booming success of becoming a hero. While revisiting it in my late twenties, it resonates with my observation of accomplishments and achievements. I return to this film frequently because it contains so much contemplation and conversation about life. Of course, it displays the Hindi film industry in all its glory, glamour, pretence, nepotism and struggle. But what it authentically portrays is the incomprehensible complexity of the human experience. It is more straightforward to imagine that somebody was talented or lucky, privileged or born in the wrong family. But this film explores the subtle intricacies of life, where it is seldom one moment or action that alters fate. It is a trajectory, a continuous journey, a chain of events occurring in the external and the internal world of the person. That, combined with some unknown force called luck, chance or destiny transports a person to their circumstance at a given moment. The film does not reinforce the significance or irrelevance of the outcome but concludes on a shift in perspective, alongside Sona Mishra, on the meaning of success, contentment and luck.