Irrational love for The Dirty Picture notwithstanding, I do not usually have much patience for movies that purport to be self-reflective about the movie industry. Even the undeniable artistry of Kaagaz ke phool is somewhat obscured for me by that movie's whining about how haaaaard it is to be an artist in the crass, cold environment of commercial cinema. My experience of Zoya Akhtar's otherwise very good Luck by Chance suffers a bit from the same affliction.
Sona (Konkona Sen Sharma) is an actor with dreams of landing a big role and becoming a star. She works tirelessly at bit parts in mainstream productions, and waits for the break she's been promised by a shady producer (Alyy Khan). Sona meets another ambitious young actor, Vikram (Farhan Akhtar), and the two connect and start a relationship. In the meantime, big-time producer Rommy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor) is trying to complete his next blockbuster, a star vehicle for the A-lister Zaffar Khan (Hrithik Roshan) and launch for newcomer Nikki (Isha Sharvani), the daughter of 70s silver screen legend Neena (Dimple Kapadia). When Zaffar abruptly withdraws from the film, an opportunity arises for Vikram - he lands the part, and soon is riding the relentless scree of studio promotion, media attention, and superstar-level temptation. Vikram's movie is a hit, but his relationship with Sona takes a hit.
Laments about the hardships faced by industry outsiders do ring somewhat hollow in the all-Akhtar extravaganza that is Luck by Chance. And in addition to a supporting cast packed with industry elder statesmen, the movie sports actor cameos to a degree not seen since Om Shanti Om - a sure sign of a moviemaker's movie if there ever was one (though I admit my heart broke a little when I spotted Manish Acharya). Nevertheless, apart from a bit of eyerolling at this (and a slightly draggy middle section) Luck by Chance is a strong effort whose best points stand out much more than its weaknesses detract. The contrasting arcs of its two principals - Vikram and Sona - are especially well-rendered. Vikram's abrupt rise and equally abrupt - if predictable - fall serves a sharp counterpoint to Sona's hard slog through obscurity and squelched hope toward a peaceful and mature landing.
Vikram's arc, in particular, offers the incontrovertible stamp of a movie written by a woman. Vikram is seduced by success in no time flat, and acts like a complete asshole, making not even an attempt to resist the artlessly forward advances of the vapid, unappealing Nikki. Sona understandably grieves her lost love - but when Vikram begs for a second chance, she calls him out for the self-absorbed man-child he is. In most movies written by men, self-absorbed man-children behave like complete assholes as a matter of course, and are usually forgiven and get what they want all the same. Not so Vikram; Zoya Akhtar makes sure that his actions have reasonably satisfying consequences.
As for Sona's arc, I wish the movie were less coy about the nature of Sona's quid pro quo with the producer Chaudhary who promises her a second-heroine role in a movie he is always on the cusp of making. It seems from the innuendo of the movie's opening scene that the arrangement includes Sona doing time on the casting couch, but the movie otherwise gives the subject very wide berth, and nothing is made of it after that exchange. Where Luck By Chance is fearless about poking a stick at so many industry pecadilloes - from the favoring of talentless star kids to the out-of-proportion influence wielded by gossip rags - it is telling that the movie treads so cautiously on the subject of swapping sex for roles.
It is perhaps redundant to praise a Konkona Sen Sharma performance, but I won't let that stop me. She brings an outstandingly moving wounded delicacy to Sona. As Sona's dreams fade she seems to become wearier and wearier; her posture droops and her expression takes on a more exhausted aspect. Konkona also conveys the real work of acting - when Sona finishes a take, her face and body visibly relax. Always looking to improve her craft, Sona never fails to buttonhole someone on set and ask whether the take was good. There is another contrast with Vikram here that is surely intentional. Vikram studies also - he practices dancing and martial arts; he is chastised by a workshop instructor for being too understated in his delivery. Vikram is studying to be a Hero, not an actor.
And as a hero, I am not yet fully sold on Farhan Akhtar. He's a very good-looking fellow (just like his father) but his perpetually dazed expression does not convey a great deal of emotional range, and he speaks (just like his father) as though he's still finishing dinner and has a cold. I will reserve judgment until I've seen more of his movies.
The supporting cast lends a great deal of texture to Luck by Chance's portrayal of how the sausage gets made in mainstream Hindi cinema. Dimple Kapadia is always riveting - sometimes I wonder if she is not simply the most beautiful woman in the movies, bar none. In Being Cyrus, she made an aborrent character thrillingly appealing, and she calls on some of the same art for the slightly more sympathetic Neena, who is part over-the-hill superstar, part horrifying pageant mom. Dimple brings a measure of subtlety to this blend that makes Neena the most compelling character in the film. Rishi Kapoor, as the emotional producer Rommy, does a lot more scene chewing in a performance with a lot less depth, but he's nevertheless a lot of fun to watch.
In sum, if you do not share my mild aversion to industry navel-gazing, Luck by Chance has a lot to offer. Most movie lovers would be fascinated by the sort of insider peek it offers behind the camera and into production offices. Toss in an excellent Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy soundtrack (including, over the opening credits, a moving montage of behind-the-scenes workers from set-builders to costume-tailors) and that vast menu of supporting roles and cameos, and on balance you have a well-made movie worth watching - even if it will never be a favorite of mine.