Songs Of Luck By Chance – Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance takes the most nuanced look at Bollywood’s outsider-insider debate. One of the greatest achievements of Luck by Chance is the way it portrays nepotism in the film industry, probably the only mainstream Hindi film to do so.
When Vikram arrives at the office, the dark room is full of actors. Men from all over India occupy the room, their desperation, ambition, hopes and passion filling the space. Shankar Mahadevan’s voice sings, ‘Sapnon se bhare naina,’ as the actors size each other up, fill out forms, rehearse lines. Someone turns to Vikram and with an embarrassed look on his face asks him to help him fill out a form – it’s in English. When Vikram asks, we understand that it is a form with basic details-name, age, etc. He’s moving on to auditions. An actor is asked to leave and is desperate for another chance. “I’ll do ma’am, better than this,” he says. I dare you to watch this song without your heart breaking.
Songs Of Luck By Chance
When I watch Luck By Chance now – and I watch it all the time, on good days, on bad days, during extended lunch breaks and when I can’t sleep at night – I always, always skip this song. I love the song, it’s on all my playlists to listen to while doing Bartan, but I can’t watch the video. It’s too powerful and too sad.
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In another scene from the film, during a program Niki Walia (Isha Sharvani), daughter of former superstar Nina Walia (Dimple Kapadia), Niki tells the media, “I never thought I would become an actress. I wanted to be a veterinarian, animals and a doctor. When my mom told me that Uncle Romy wanted to sign me, I said, “What are you talking about?” Main urgent nervous thi, urgent nervous thi… But then I said “Why not”?”
The difference between the star kid and the struggling actor is staggering and you feel disgusted, much like Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma) watching an interview on television. But one of the biggest achievements of Luck by Chance is the way it portrays nepotism in the film industry, probably the only mainstream Hindi film to do so.
Niki Walia was handed a launch on a platter, with superstar Zafar Khan (played by Hrithik Roshan) despite having no acting experience; she is a bad actress and can’t even deliver her dialogues properly. (The scene where Anurag Kashyap, who plays the screenwriter, tries to teach her how to say “khoon” and then replaces the word with murder is one of my favorites.) Luck By Chance also compares this privilege to struggling actors, Sona, Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) and Abhi (Arjun Mathur). The film is filled with contrasting ironies: when the film shows Nina Walia filming her daughters, demanding branded clothes and Louis Vuitton bags, when Sona has to sleep with the producer for years, hoping to play the “second lead” in In the film, Vikram has to find his grandfather’s watch just to get onto a film set, and Abhi has to perform night after night of theater for unsuspecting audiences, all in the hope of somehow making a film.
The film takes its time to show that Niki seems to belong in that world, as she casually attends movie premieres and walks into Kareena Kapoor’s house for a party. The party is also where one of the most significant conversations takes place, in the context of outsiders and stars, between Zafar and Karan Johar. Karan Johar says, “this is how outsiders enter the industry. A big star turns down a role and a newcomer gets a break,” citing Shahrukh Khan getting Darr and Baazigar after many people said no to roles, and of course Amitabh Bachchan getting his first blockbuster Zanjeer, after seven heroes said no to the film.
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But the film does not stop there. She refuses to deal with nepotism in such simplistic terms, opting, just as Zoya Akhtar always does, to go for nuance. And Luck By Chance is filled with subtle nuances. It does a great job of highlighting Nika’s insecurities and the pressure on her, so as a viewer you can’t help but hate her even when she recognizes her privilege.
In the scene, she stands in front of this huge enlarged face of her mother, showing the comparisons that are inevitable. You feel her humiliation as her mother tells her to exercise, reminding her that “a lot of money is sitting on that waist”. And in contrast, Vikram ends up being cunning and manipulative. He manipulates his competition into acting in a way he knows the director will hate. He is shrewd in the way he charms both Nina and Niki Walia, taking advantage of his friends and acquaintances and everyone he knows. The narrative never blames him for it, and while all these machinations might make you uncomfortable, you can’t help but feel for Vikram when he breaks down because his friend tells him he won’t make it. He just does whatever he needs to do to succeed.
Enter Romy Roli (Rishi Kapoor), a successful film producer who has been making films for decades. He is hilarious, full of superstitions, insistence on working with a single star (“Zafar mera beta jaisa hai”) and obsession with making a commercially successful film (when news breaks that someone has been stabbed in line for a film he has produced, he says “Cheers for that”). Rishi Kapoor is obviously fantastic in this role, but Akhtar doesn’t make Romy Roli a character you can only laugh at. It also shows his powerlessness — the struggle to get an investor for a film without a big star, the pain as star after star turns down the role, and when he finally breaks down because Zafar doesn’t answer his calls and feels disrespected and rejected, you realize how each individual in just a cog in this system, whether he’s a successful producer or a child star, or a struggling actor.
The film also comments on power structures in the industry – and no, it’s not always the manufacturer with the power. It says how quickly the film they are making, Dil Ki Aag, falls apart when Zafar leaves the film. Investors pull back. The other lead actors won’t touch the film, and are making all sorts of excuses for it. Abhishek Bachchan, in a cameo, says he doesn’t want the controversy that will start if he replaces the lead actor in the film. This is where the manufacturer is powerless.
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Luck By Chance reminds us that it is no ordinary battle of the underdog against the star. There are many deep problems in how the industry works that people don’t want to address. Accidental Luck is an important reminder that movies are made by people too. People with their own passions, their own motives and their own failings.
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