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For the longest time, the Hindi film has always been about idealising. We idealise style, mannerisms and, most commonly, romantic gestures. Understandably, if there were a movie about the Hindi film industry, it would have to project its larger-than-life glamour and charisma. But in came the storm called Zoya Akhtar, who gave us a beautiful story about a dreamer and how the journey to his first brush with stardom affects him and his relationships (Luck By Chance). There is no over-dramatic depiction of how the industry poses various barriers and how he overcomes these barriers only to ultimately achieve his dream. Here the struggle is internal and the conflict, with his own. Zoya has somehow always managed to give us stories that we can strangely relate to, characters that feel like an extension of our own personalities. What’s even more beautiful is that she humanises them and does not put them into little boxes called the “hero” and the “villain”.

Throughout her career, Zoya has given us some beautiful stories, and within them some beautiful shots and scenes that tend to stay with us. But for me what stands out are the moments of revelations. Scenes where the most unexpected characters reveal their most unexpected side: and she makes sure that we do not judge them. What’s intriguing is that she does not create this sort of big build-up around them since the very beginning, and neither does she stun us with a sudden change in the narrative. She gently slips it into the story without disturbing its core and its ecosystem, and without drastically changing the arcs of the characters, thereby maintaining the familiarity and connect with them.

For instance Dimple Kapadia’s character in Luck By Chance. She plays a yesteryear star who ensures that absolutely nothing comes in the way of her daughter’s dream debut. Absolutely hellbent on getting everything right, she gets involved in every aspect. From choosing the leading man for her daughter to using the alleged love affair between them as a PR move, she tries to orchestrate everything, only to lose the entire plot. But in the end, we see a side of her that we cannot help but sympathise with. We see a mother – and not a star – who doesn’t just want to make her daughter a version of herself. She wants her daughter to be recognised for her work and abilities. All she desired was dignity and respect for her daughter, unlike what she received in her formative years, when she was forced to sleep with film producers by her own mother in order to land a role. More than being a former star, she was trying to be a better mother to her child.

Zoya beautifully followed this with Kabir’s character in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Kabir (Abhay Deol) for the most part comes across as the most sorted of the three friends, and as someone who is balanced. He seems content, ready to move on to the next big thing in his life, only for us to realise that he never wanted any of that and it was all a big misunderstanding. A guys’ trip that everyone thought was a celebration of friendship before the big day was in fact an escape for Kabir. Escape from the reality and from everything he has been going through.

Whether it was Moeen’s (Vijay Varma) revelation in Gully Boy, when we see his humane side in the iconic jail scene between him and Murad (Ranveer Singh), or Tara’s (Sobhita Dhulipala) in Made in Heaven, as her back story slowly unfolds, giving us an insight into her insecurities, Zoya Akhtar has continued to flesh out characters in relatable ways. In times when people are talking about “getting real”, her stories and characters show us that everyone has a little something in them or in their past that they don’t want to bring out for the sake of their survival and the well-being of those around them. Hiding a part of ourselves is completely okay and all of us have our own personal reasons to hide. In a way it shapes us. In a way, it makes us human.

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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