Clearly, Zoya Akhtar only illustrates written text. Her ‘cinema’, if you can call it that, is about pointing-and-shooting written text. The only time her camera becomes dynamic is when she assumes her shot features a subtle sensitivity, such as when Vikram (her male lead), and Sona (her female lead), sleep on the sofa, wrapped around each other. Then, her camera dollies back slowly. And that is that. The camera, for the rest of the film, is only just switched on, as actors speak their lines.
Though the above is nothing to be proud of, it is not something that should shatter the earth in terms of a director’s introspection of his or her work. Many directors point-and-shoot and it’s the basic denial of cinema’s basic function though one cannot deny the power of a narrative. A great script can be shot. It is normal. And this does imply that any judgement of Akhatr’s cinema should be performed in context of her narrative and not her visual capacity.
The topic of her debut feature, ‘Luck By Chance’, is the film industry. And that is the most easily discernible part of what it is about. When a film so heavily relies on the power of a script, so completely denying the camera any other capability, it is imperative that it does not suffer from flaws abundant. The script of ‘Luck by Chance’ does.
I will not question the film based on its logical incongruities, of which there are many, a film named ‘Dil Ki Aag’ being a blockbuster, for instance. But that be forgiven, for it is just another evidence to show that the director wishes to make fun of the industry tradition of embracing tacky titles.
I will, instead, question it based on its narrative flaws:-
a) The film begins with a producer promising a starlet a role. Credits roll over a shot-dissolve-shot montage of various facets of a film studio. And you are made to believe that it is kind of a tongue-in-cheek celebration or a self-conscious parody of how the industry works. This is how the first half until the intermission works. Fine, it is an earnest, if not original idea. Done before at the least, four times in the last 12 years, in films as diverse as Rangeela, Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hu, Om Shanti Om, Superstar.
In that intention, the film serves filmic stereotypes with such aplomb that you almost take it seriously. Almost. Most of the characters are these filmic(or this film type) stocks– the wily producer, the female lead’s finicky mother, the struggling starlet to provide an outsider perspective, the second wily producer, the plagiarist institute writer and a world of lies, deceit, and such, and such. One may argue, in that scenario, that the stereotype is repeated because that is how things exist in reality. Good point, but then what new did you do?
b) The incomplete or mostly abandoned strands/tracks in her film or her script are numerous. You see a searing sense of jealousy developing between Abhimanyu when he sees Vikram’s success. You never see it again. You see an old, ditched-by-his-star producer complain of having to chase young actors to make a film. You allow your mind to entertain the possibility of a redemption sub-plot. Of the film with Vikram being his redemption. You never see it again. You see a possible discussion of a conflict between art and commerce, between theatre and films. You never see that again, as well. Akhtar obviously believed that she could make each character psychologically rich, but she was busier ‘trying’ to achieve point a) and then, point c).
c) Point a) fails the film, but what it replaces in terms of screen time is an even more crucial loss. Since the second half hinges so hugely on the relationship between Vikram and Sona, and how one becomes a star, while the other rues her luck, and that you are made to believe that it is essentially about the relationship between the both of them, between the one who waits for destiny to intervene and the one who intervenes himself; it gives woefully little importance to developing any sort of relationship between the two in the first half.
The first half is as aforementioned, a study of a group of quirky characters in a quirkier film industry. Then in the second, two of them suddenly jump up and say, it is about us. So the ensemble becomes about two, abruptly, of course.
One may still argue that one should assume that the film was always going to be about Farhan Akhtar and Konkona. Well, I didn’t think it has to be like that. The film seemed almost as if Zoya Akhtar felt it compulsory to make a second half, even if it has absolutely no connection with the first. She should thus have focused more on the two characters inside her film universe in the first half, rather than the film universe, which also includes two characters inside it.
d) Akhtar’s screenplay/film is not a complete film by itself. The clear incoherence between its macro components, i.e the first and the second half or the first, second and third acts has already been talked about. But even in terms of its microstructure, each scene is like a standalone, an isolated construction completely free from the obligation to be followed by a coherent scene, or from following a preceding one. It is a collection of incoherent scenes. And not good in a radical sense, but it travels in vignettes. They just follow a structure like, First scene – One quirky film industry comic character, Second Scene – Second quirky industry comic character(istic) And so on. This is how the first half mainly works.
e) In the second half, the film attains coherence, and there is a kind of a notion of a story. Yes, cinema is not to tell stories. But that fancy quote places huge consequential emphasis on the evolution of cinematic form. This film does not care for it too much, so I as a viewer have to burden it with the responsibility of telling me a story, in the absence of any better aim that it is trying to achieve. Suddenly, Zoya decides to make the film about her female character.
About how she has suffered, the lessons she has learnt, the problems she has had to face, to attain a sense of happiness. Such convoluted reduction of the male character into a selfish, manipulative, self-centered, calculating only in order to achieve an ending which she clearly had in mind before she wrote other sequences is a superfluous device. Yes, there were hints of a go-getter in Vikram in the first half as well, but he always seemed so earnest. If there was a struggle, it was a collective struggle of the two to survive in the industry. It was them together, not against one-another. And even if it had to be that, a gradual progression would have been better.
Zoya Akhtar’s debut isn’t any better than Farah Khan’s sophomore effort. As a matter of fact it’s worse, because while Khan has no qualms about admitting to her sheer lack of any filmmaking effort and is comfortable replacing it with spectacle and ostentatiousness.
She remains confused between inducing her subtlety which she clearly borrows from her brother’s debut, in that all conversations are shot with a slow piano keys score, and a lot of silence, it is a style that is not natural to her, and she messes it up. To her, breaking into the most ill-placed song in the form of ‘Bhawre bhawre’ comes naturally, so she should stick to it. The only problem is, there are way too many filmmakers like that already.
She has a keen sense of colour, and does borrow a few traits from American Indie comedies about dysfunctional families – frontal angles, patterns on the walls, the quirk, an edginess to the whole affair. There is also a fantastic scene when the stereotypical star breaks and makes faces for street children – but I am afraid that apart from these features, the film should only be remembered for its abuse of the montage, of which there are far too many, and for proving that one of the most exciting and intelligent young directors in the country is one of the most boring and underwhelming actors to grace the screen. He is not even an actor. He is basically just speaking. As Nand Kishore tells him, “You underplay too much.”
Also, I am sure Akhtar just has to be aware of the possibilities of clever analogies that a scene in her film can help critics like me to draw. So I will jump at it. In one of the scenes, as a play is being performed, the audience looks at each other, bored, disinterested. It was eerie how that reflected the state of the audience in the theatre I watched the film in.
THE AUDITION SCENE
As an endnote, I want to speak about how all directors in the world shoot the ‘audition scene’, i.e a scene which features candidates auditioning for a play, a film, a marriage(in rare Miike perverseness). All of them use the same technique, which is basically, shooting a candidate appearing from a frontal angle, and then jump cutting to the next candidate, then next, then next. Accompanying this series of frontal shots and jump cuts are offscreen reactions of the producers, or auditioneers, mostly to the tune of them shouting, “Next”. This series continues, until, alas, we reach the candidate to be selected. He/she is given full screen time to perform or atleast a semblance of it. Can the by-now redundant method be overhauled?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Anurag Kashyap’s claim of it being the best debut by a filmmaker in Hindi cinema in the last ten years is so ridiculous that you just are compelled to associate it with his presence in the film. There is absolutely no other reason why he would have placed this film over gems like Ab Tak Chappan, Ek Haseena Thi, Khosla ka Ghosla, Shool, Dil Chahta Hai, Matrubhoomi and lesser ones like Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, Kal Ho Na Ho, My Wife’s Murder. No damn reason.
Ghatak, is a traveller, whose primary interests lie in the study of Zionism, Issei Sagawa, and the designs of Werner Von Braun. He has travelled world over with his autobiography, Debojit : The Autobiography, a bibliographic experience he is sure can change the entire world of the reader. He also watches films sometimes, and like Herzog, believes that cinema comes not from the brain, but from the thighs.
Epilog08- International Rountable on the world of cinema
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