Sunday 1 February 2009

Luck by Chance (2009)

Vah, vah, vah! Kya film thi!

Our money's on Luck by Chance - best film of 2009? Maybe. It's a bit early to call, being just February, and we're optimistic this year has even more in store. So while we don't have the courage to already dub it the year's best, we can say that it's a wonderful inauguration to what promises to be a year full of Hindi cinema potential. And what better way to kick out the jams of 2009 than a film about... making films!

Luck by Chance basically covers every single thing you need to know about the Hindi film industry. Sure, it's full of clichés - the desperately ambitious struggling actor, the sleazy producer, the idiotic princess - but it's such well-done cliché that we really have no complaints. This film manages to tackle every industry myth and real-life cliché with a smart cynicism: the filmi families, the superstitions, the light-dark skin tone racism, the Hindi-English dichotomy, the death of theater, the parallel cinema versus masala divide, even the "Bollywood" semantics issue... Not only that, rather than the glittering star parade of 2007's Om Shanti Om - another film about films - Luck by Chance's cameos are intelligent, wry and add depth. That is, the stars don't just walk on to pump up the film's appeal, but rather they serve key purposes: Karan Johar's explanation of the legendary "outsider" success stories at the party, for example. Furthermore, the entire cast is top-notch and there are some surreal, meta performances too (for example, Sanjay Kapoor as a failed hero and youngest brother of the big-shot producer).

The film follows a young struggling actor, Vikram (Farhan Akhtar), as he navigates the heady, two-faced world of behind-the-scenes Bollywood. He strikes up a romance with a B-movie actress, Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma), who has been waiting three years for a promised big break. Meanwhile, further up on the ladder is producer Romy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor) and his airhead trophy wife, Minty (Juhi Chawla). Romy's new film, Dil ki Aag (Flames of the Heart) is currently filming with his favored hero, the superstar Zaffar Khan (Hrithik Roshan, in a wonderfully ironic performance) and the debuting star child, Nikki (Isha Sharvani). Nikki's severe stage mom is the aging 70s superstar, Neena (Dimple Kapadia). When Zaffar lands a part in the upcoming Karan Johar film with Shah Rukh Khan - who, the film implies again and again, is at the top of the Bollywood pecking order - he dumps Romy's film. It's then up to destiny, hustling and sweat to get Vikram into the film's coveted lead role instead.

Ultrabrown's review makes a very good point that this film, which is ostensibly about the underdog outsider making it big in Bollywood, is made, instead, by the most gilded of star families: almost everyone in this film comes from a privileged filmi family. But we think this lends the film a knowing, self-consciously ironic air: as we mentioned, many stars have significant, smart cameos and the few actors in this film who are not playing themselves are generally playing parodies of themselves. Take Hrithik Roshan, for example: he has some wonderful moments such as when he laments that he's becoming "mechanical", that he is not Zaffar Khan but rather is the "employee" of the image of Zaffar Khan (something Shah Rukh Khan has said of himself) and when he eyes the rising star Vikram at the glitterati party with a half-predatory, half-insecure glare. And that's just one slice! Speaking of Shah Rukh Khan, his cameo, which is the culmination of the star parade, is the classiest of the lot: it's a real "we've finally reached the wizard of Oz!" moment.

Ultrabrown and Filmi Girl also noted that the film is difficult to connect with on an emotional level. And it's true: this film is primarily intellectual, it's a trendy arthouse movie wrapped in a commercial package, and so its tone is likewise snarky, cynical and ironic. In particular, the romance doesn't really work. And almost everyone in the film is an unlikably two-faced, overly ambitious and selfish social climber - at least most of the time. There is also a lot of gray, and a certain tragic air to the pervasive insecurity everyone seems to suffer from. It's indeed disheartening to see that the rat race never ends, that the top of the heap is a lonely and unhappy existence. The film's sense of humor is also the snort-and-snicker variety, with a lot of sarcasm and ridicule. All this makes it hard to like on a more straightforward, sentimentalist level. Yet there is some poignancy, such as when the aging Romy Rolly/Rishi bemoans the lost dignity of the current generation, and when Neena/Dimple instead reveals the harshness of her early life as a star (and this is interesting in itself; a commentary on the double standards for men and women in the industry, perhaps?). And just as a documentation of a fascinating industry, this film is great. We liked it and we highly recommend it - especially for those just getting into Hindi cinema. It's a crash course in all you need to know to be conversant with the lingo and mythos of Hindi films. Now we can only hope that the Raj Kapoor biopic starring Anil Kapoor (AHEM AHEM PLZ MAKE THIS FILM UNIVERSE) will have that same knowing, harshly cynical, exposé vibe about that era.


Anonymous said...

Caught this movie yesterday and loved it. Though it drags in places, especially in the mid-section where the director seemed more intent on cramming in all of the stereotypes and cliches in as many vignettes as possible. But she never lost control of the flow and managed to bring it all together in the end. And the meta performances - Dimple, Sanjay Kapoor, Hrithik, Karan..especially Dimple. And who knew little Isha Sharwani could portray such a minx. The romance was a bit lame but Konkona got it right. The movie's opening scene and her facial expressions were just perfect. Loved this one.

Anonymous said...

Just a small squibble - its Dimple Kapadia and not Kampadia

Filmi Girl said...

I'm glad you liked it! I really did enjoy parts of the film but I need an emotional hook and Luck by Chance didn't have it.

The insider/outsider thing is very notable. Zoya has been going around giving interviews that being a star daughter has not helped her in her career which makes her sound very out of touch.

I wished she had done more with the contrast between Konkona and Isha. Isha is very, very fair and appears more so next to Konkona. And I really wish we had more Dimple! Her character was amazing!

Everything might have been forgiven if Zoya had either a) included a subplot with some emotional resonance or b) we see Farhan's character totally bomb or something to show that he is not a "star."

So... in short, I would rather be watching Dil Ki Aag but Luck by Chance was worth watching once.

Also - MAC MOHAN! And, also, HRITHIK!

ajnabi said...

Ack, I am dying, dying dying to see this film. Your review didn't help the dyingness. ;-) Agree with you that Zoya's interviews are a little too ingenuous about the starchild advantage thing. I mean, please honey. But who better to be satirical about the whole system?

Anonymous said...

Echoing your waah! waah!! I finally caught it, too, and it was everything it promised to be! :-D One much awaited movie that was well worth the wait. I wonder if its as big a success as Dil Ki Aag... ;-)

I do wonder why you and Filmi Girl find it more intellectually pleasing rather than emotionally satisfying. Sure Farhan and Konkona's characters were real enough but in a filmi kind of way. From Vikram's unreserved selfishness and determined schmoozing (which he did so well and to such good effect that I am determined to take lessons!) to Sona's cheerful naivete, Rolly's producer antics and Zaffar's "image" issues,the characters were, for the most part, caricatures or stereotypes but with enough depth to make them real-seeming. All-in-all, I'd say it appealed to my Bollywood-, sorry, Hindi film world-struck heart rather than my intellect, because my intellect tells me that this is more of Main Bhi Madhuri Dixit Banna Chaahti Hoon kind of masala rather than a Govind Nihalani-style reality.

Anonymous said...

PS: Yay! for Mac Mohan too. I didnt even know he was alive!!

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Would somebody pleeeeeeease invent teleporting right now so I can see this immediately! Like Ajnabi, the dyingness continues to mount.

Filmi Girl and I have had some interesting discussions about the emotional hook of movies, and I'm beginning to wonder if I don't need that as much as I would have guessed I did. Certainly prior to getting into Hindi films, it was not something that I would have described myself as seeking out in novels or movies. (Once again, Hindi cinema has run amok with my aesthetics and sensibilities and inner emotional order! How does it do that?) I also love satires, spoofs, parodies, and tongue-in-cheek things - so with those two factors in place, this seems like the perfect movie for me.

I showed a friend "Main Aise Kyoon Hoon" last night and have been re-bitten by the Hrithik bug. He's one of those stars of whom I generally think highly and really enjoy watching when he's in front of me, but I never think about him when he's not.

Filmi Girl said...

Beth, I think the Hrithik thing comes from the fact that he's not really the kind of actor who makes news off-screen. He's married, has kids, and seems to have a quiet life. He's certainly not running around and shooting endangered deer or beating up his girlfriends!

The emotional hook is something I really need in a story to LOVE it. I can enjoy films without it - like Luck By Chance or Hollywood movies - but without the emotional aspect, a movie won't be something I return to again and again. I know this about myself and it's one of reasons I've found such a home in popular Hindi films (okay, Dimple!)

I think you will really like this movie! Get that teleportation device working! (Maybe Dr. Sheldon can help!)

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

Have you gotten to the episode when Sheldon and Raj talk about Madhuri vs Aishwarya? It's great.

a ppcc representative said...

Srinivas - Yeah, Zoya Akhtar seemed intent on covering EVERYTHING about the mythos into the film - which did make it drag at times (also, Farhan Akhtar didn't have the charisma to keep me interested throughout everything) - however I still loved it (and Farhan DID have a wonderfully two-faced quality about him!). All the women were great - Isha was fabulous!

Srinivas2 - D'oh! Thanks, corrected now.

Filmi Girl - Yeah, I agree that the intended main emotional hook - the romance - was pretty flat. I guess I became increasingly involved and enamored with all the side plots: I LOVED Rishi, Juhi, Sanjay and (especially!) Dimple. If the film had just relegated Farhan and Konkona to supporting cast, and kept this more of an ensemble thing, I would have been more involved. YES to Mac Mohan, though! I thought his cameo was also hilarious commentary on the weird cultish status some masala villains end up having: e.g. PRAAAAN!!!

Ajnabi - Exactly! You MUST see this, it's great.

Bollyviewer - Again, I guess the emotional resonance of the main romance just didn't carry, and the film seemed to want that to be the emo core. I thought the film overall struck a great mix between tongue-in-cheek arthouse sensibilities (some of those aesthetics were straight out of Little Miss Sunshine or Garden State) to some pure commercial fun (everyone was, as you say, a silly, endearing stereotype).

Bollyviewer2 - Gasp, shame on you, you faux masala fan!! Mac Mohan still works too - I think he's moved to regional cinema now!

Beth - If not teleportation, there's always, ahem, torrentation. Cough. Hindi films have definitely recalibrated my aesthetic sensibilities! And Hrithik is so much smarter than his pretty boy looks imply!

NidaMarie said...

Oooh, I'm so excited now!!! I mean, I was earlier,, so glad you liked this!

NidaMarie said...

Aww, man. Scratch all of that. I just checked my local theater (The only one that plays Hindi films) and they aren't showing it. What the heck? I saw the trailer for this film at that very same theater!'re they gonna show me a trailer for a film they're not planning on running!

Sorry, just had to vent to someone. :)

Anonymous said...

Saw this movie on Sunday here in DC and loved it too! Like you, am hoping that this is a good sign that 2009 will be a good year for hindi films. Thought the acting in general was excellent, although this was the first time I have seen Farhan on screen. I think that the emotional impact -- or lack thereof -- that everyone decries is at least in part due to his wooden acting. Konkona is always able to bring her characters to life no matter how poor the script is. But overall a great movie -- amazing that it is Zoya's first film and that she both wrote the story and directed it (although Dad wrote the dialogs).

BTW, enjoy your site -- thanks for the review.


Anonymous said...

I think most reviews on LBC talk quite a bit on whats good with it. I think its a good but it drags in large portions. I thought the second half was very well done with several 'moments'. But the first half drags and is very patchy and disconnected. The payoff in the second isnt proportional. Akhtars have done better before.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of double standards, here's something I've been wondering about:

Sona's having an affair with the sleazy producer, a fact she skirts around but pretty much confesses to in her conversation with Vikram.

At a later point, when Sona finds out that Vikram has essentially done the same thing, she goes ballistic.

Not that I blame her for disapproving of her boyfriend's infidelity, but doesn't it seem, right at the end, that her speech about using people isn't exactly given from a moral high ground? Does the fact that she didn't get anywhere because of her affair make a difference?


me said...

Great review of easily the best Hindi film of the last few years (setting the bar really low, I know). I nearly clicked on the "I agree" button, but threw up instead when I read this "Now we can only hope that the Raj Kapoor biopic starring Anil Kapoor" - Yrch! Now I'm going to have nightmares about a film I really want made, but not starring the Hairy One. Give it to Irrfan Khan or possibly even better Rajpal Yadav, hell give it to Zayed Khan or Bobby Deol, just don't give that iconic hat to Anil Kapoor.

eliza bennet said...

Noooo anyone but Bobby Deol - seriously I don't like Anil but Bobby should not even be near to anything remotely involves acting.

To quote a reviewer friend of mine (said of another 'actor' of different nationality but fits Bobby).

"Whenever he is on screen he creates an acting void that threatens to suck everything around it."

Or something like it.