Saturday, January 31, 2009

Luck By Chance: Some thoughts.

Originally published here on

When Anurag Kashayp first approached Shahrukh Khan for the role of K in No Smoking, SRK refused. He answers that circuitously in the movie Luck By Chance, when he advices Vikram that, in this industry it is very important what kind of choices you make. The first film chooses you, now, you are going to choose your films. Choose well. The answer could very well have been Choose safe. Luck By Chance is one such movie that fleetingly touches some unanswered questions, and then indifferently moves on to its own story. The story of Indian film industry or Bollywood? Call what may you want to, after watching Luck By chance, I just realized, the striking difference between telling your story and sensationalizing it. The difference between honesty and pretentiousness. The difference between a Page 3, and Luck By Chance. The difference between Madhur Bhandharkar and Zoya Akthar. You think I’ve lost it by digressing this far? Well, I’ve just begun..

There have been a lot of discussions on PFC itself regarding its main leads. Konkona Sen Sharma, and Farhan Akhthar. In the movie, they play outsiders, the struggler who are ready to do anything to achieve that coveted spot, to break in. While the former also strives hard, is ambitious, but the latter is unrelenting. To an extreme, almost. The discussion was: Should they have actually cast new comers for the role? I wouldn’t dismiss this question straight way, by just a Yes or a No answer. Because, that is one of the things that this movie raises. How the hell a newcomer can break into this industry? It is not only a bad, mad world where there is not even an inch visible from the outside. We hear thousands of stories about struggles, that actually makes us shudder from inside. Javed Akhthar writes in his book ‘Tarkash’ about his struggling days, everyone who visits PFC knows Anurag’s struggle, and a countless other rags to riches story of those who have made it. In the movie, Karan Johar says to Zafar Khan( Hrithik Roshan), Vikram should be thankful to you, had you not left this role, he could never have got this chance. Zanjeer was refused by 7 people, and then it came to Amitabh Bachann. Aamir Khan left Darr, and then Shahrukh got it(though that Shahrukh’s break, but, from there on started his association with Yash Raj Films which is as significant as a major break). Otherwise, who gives a chance to a new comer? Very true, Mr. Karan Johar. Very true. The way Karan delivers this line rings so true because we all know Karan himself will not give a chance to any new comer, he is too busy working with his ‘brother’, ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’. This is one of the most honest and ironical lines being spoken in a ‘Bollywood’ movie in recent times. See, I digressed again, back to the question of discussion…

So, the question which some people were discussing on was: how apt it was to cast two established actors who are themselves from a ‘filmy family’. Doesn’t the whole point the movie tries driving home gets a bit lost here? When you see Farhan enter for the audition of a major movie, where he sees many people like him, and when ‘Sapnon se Bhare naina‘ plays in the background. Your heart goes out more to whom? Farhan Akhthar, the struggler shown, who he is actually not, or the people sitting out there filling forms, who are struggler in the real sense. Because, for that brief moment, I snapped out of Luck by Chance, and dived straight into the what is the story of an ordinary struggler. It was very important for the rest of the star cast to be from film industry, because it was about them, but had fresh faces portrayed the role of Vikram, and Shona, the film would have been that more honest for me. Because, one of the part of the movie is about the trial and tribulation of a newcomer trying to break in. It could have given the film that edge. Although, all said and done Farhan and Konkona deliver a staggering performance. Konkona, is by default, expected to act fabulously. So, it would really be a exercise in redundancy to pour accolades on her for this performance. It is the kind of stuff she is born to deliver. Next time someone gives a believable and awesome performance, we can safely it to be a ‘What a Konkona performance’. Now, comes Farhan Akthar. Farhan’s restraint performance was one of the high points of Rock On!! His role raised the movie to a new level, and with Luck By Chance, he raises the bar for himself staggeringly high. What a performer! Farhan should discount everyone’s advice of playing safe,( as advised toVikram by the ’star’ himself) because, this actor has put character back into the word character-actor. Farhan absolutely outshines and dazzles in this movie, a powerhouse performance. I should stop gushing, otherwise people would start guessing I have been hired by Excel Entertainment. Such is the performance by the two main leads, that it actually becomes difficult to answer the question raised in the beggining of this paragraph. Their performance injects honesty and sincerity to the movie.

I also think Zoya owes a lot to her brother Farhan for this movie. I am not going to deny her any credit. It is a smash-hit debut in almost all the ways possible, and I consider it foolish to say that this is the best debut of the last decade or not. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. But, I feel Farhan’s Dil Chahta Hai unconsciously laid the foundation of this beautiful movie. Anurag said in one of the comments that, Farhan and Zoya struggled a lot with him and Farhan didn’t know any stars when he was making Dil Chahta Hai. Okay, that is fine. But, after Dil Chahta Hai made waves, when Excel Entertainment came into being, when they had the backing of a powerful Javed Akhthar, a versatile S-E-L at their disposal, it laid the foundation of Zoya’s work. I will reiterate the fact that story and screenplay which has been done by Zoya herself, is a work of an exceptional talent. But, having said that, had the aforementioned factors not been on her side, the movie could never have been as effective as it is now. The guest appearances, the special appearances, the friendly appearances, taking digs at oneself.etc. would never have been possible in a movie made by an ‘outsider’ in the truest sense.

The movie raises so many questions through its funny but dark lines that it would be a crime to ignore them. The actors play themselves, and go on to say some of things that would make you laugh, but at the same time make you think and question the dynamics of ‘Bollywood’. For instance, When Anurag is ranting about one of the supposed endings of the movie via symbolism, and visual metaphors, Rishi Kapoor cuts him short by saying, Ae Institute, main ye picture film festival ke liye nai bana raha hun‘. This line again goes on to say a lot of things in its own unassuming way. When No Smoking was released, people here discussed about Franz Kafka, Ayn Rand, and what not. While the hard breaking truth is that most of our audience and even the so-called stars and member of this fraternity, give a damn. The ideologies don’t match. Not even an iota in most of the cases.

That is what Luck By Chance. About the industry, where everyone dreams to be a part of, an industry where every one bitches about one another, an industry where everything seems unfair and unreasonable. An Industry which is so ruthless that it has made a few, has broken thousands of dream. Hats off to Zoya for delineating such a true account of this kaleidoscope.

Friday, January 2, 2009

City of God: Depressing. Shocking. Brilliant

Originally written for The article has been published here.

Civilization. Sanity. Peace. Brotherhood. Throw these words out of the window. Because, with respect to the City of God, they are not only an aberration and theoretical, but also, fantastic. A city where every unarmed person is equivalent to a eunuch, a city where anarchy is the only form of order. A city where massacre is a rule, peace an exception. A city thriving on the fringes of insanity and its people clinging on to the feeble dim of shallow hope.

Adapted from Paulo Lins’s novel, the movie is a gut wrenching account of the people living in the City of God( Rio-di-Jenerio’s slum). Narrated by Rocket, a wannabe photographer, who unlike his brothers, and the majority of the people of the city of Gods is not obsessed with guns. Or, taking life. He admits he is not cut out for that stuff. The movie is a first hand story about an ordinary guy who grew up in the City of God, his tryst with this abnormal world, where killing is almost as common place as is the lack of it on the streets of a so called normal, civilized world. Almost everyone and everything is corrupt, the city’s name is ironic in the very sense because it looks as if it is this very city that has been abandoned by the Gods. Most of the cops are as dangerous as the hoodlums dominating the street, a child’s definition of becoming a man is this - I smoke, I snort, I’ve killed and robbed, I’m a man. Robot narrates the story and the movie almost unfolds in a chapter wise format, delineating each character’s background and bind them to the main story with seamless ease.

The movie opens to a mad chicken chase. An entire gang is running after the chicken, a symbolic representation of the narrator’s unending desire to flee from the same madness. The manner in which the scene launches till the point it concludes is simply amazing. The cinematography here is just magical, for a few seconds the camera almost becomes a living entity running with the spirit of chicken and possessing the heart to break free. It has to be one of the most kinetic opening sequences in the movies. In host of other scenes as well, the cinematography of the movie stands out, be it capturing the blood laden streets and by lanes of the favelas, or be it the violent action scenes, or capturing the symmetric houses(probably the only thing in the place that exists in order and symmetry). The editing too is top notch, movie switches time so casually, but, not for once does it looks discontinuous, all the parts merge into each seamlessly and the movie succesfully emerges as one gigantic story composed of different sub-plots embedded to each other.

I was pleasantly amazed to find that the movie had only one formal actor, rest all were kids from the favela itself(although they went under a rigorous acting workshop later!). The performances are just so natural, there is no forced histrionics, no sense of lingering in any scene, the movie is spellbinding and unravels with blinding ferocity.

The movie tells in its own chilling way that how crime never pays, that how one can never win in the world of crime, how one can never be the boss when everyone is wrong around, that the transition from being ruled to a ruler can be done with unbelievable ease, that this world of violence can come back and bite anyone and everyone. City of God is a depressing testimony to this fact.