Film Review: Luck by Chance

<i>The Player</i> meets <i>All About Eve</i> in this seriocomic satire of the Bollywood film industry&#8212;by a first-time director whose collaring of over a dozen major Hindi stars for cameos speaks well of its biting accuracy.
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Imagine A Star Is Born if Judy Garland's character had been devious, manipulative and ruthlessly ambitious. Then add insightful satire, wryly funny dialogue, a dollop of drama, and one knockout musical number that plays like Cirque du Soleil on speed, and you've got this latest entry from the mainstream Indian fantasy factory called Bollywood.

Opening on 61 North American screens, per the distributor, this first feature by writer-director Zoya Akhtar—whose parents are well-known Hindi screenwriters and who herself has been a Bollywood director, second-unit director and assistant director—is a Middle-Class-Dog Millionaire story charting the rise of a pretty-boy actor who cracks the insular, dynastic world of Mumbai-made movies. Evincing a universality and cross-cultural appeal that your average People Weekly reader could relate to, it's reminiscent of Robert Altman's The Player, which bitingly peeled back Hollywood's curtain to show how the sausages are made, and All About Eve, in which a calculating ingénue peeled back her own curtain and whatever else she needed to peel in order to be famous. Luck by Chance is both a brisk roman à clef and a brick-by-brick character study of how the self-involvement that can make you a star ironically makes it hard to know who you are.

Akhtar's brother, Farhan—a film actor and TV personality and himself one of the rising young Turks, so to speak, of Bollywood filmmakers—plays Vikram Jaisingh, who's come from Delhi to Mumbai to make it as an actor. Or, rather, as his stage-trained friend Abhi (Arjun Mathur) chides him, to make it as a star. Down the hall from Abhi lives Sona Mishra (Konkona Sen Sharma), a minor working actress who'd starred in one regional film but for the last three years has concentrated her energies on a promised star-vehicle by middling producer Satish Chowdhury (Alyy Khan). Vikram and Sona become friends, and eventually more—you can picture them together in the future as provincial acting teachers and community-theatre producers, a happy couple in the hinterlands who'd had their youthful shots in the big city.

Except…when the diva male lead (Hrithik Roshan) of a movie by one-time big-deal producer Rommy Rolly (Rishi Kapoor, hilarious as a two-faced, glad-handling rogue) leaves the project, the search is on for an unknown to replace him. Why an unknown? Because the female lead is one Nikki Walia (Isha Sharvani), the latest in an endless line of Bollywood scions with a fast-track ticket to films. Groomed by her mother, famous actress Seena Walia (Dimple Kapadia), Nikki is a spoiled child who naughtily sneaks around to sleep with the newcomer—Vikram, who all too quickly learns how to flatter, lie and use people like a pro. Adding to the movie's street cred are cameo appearances by such real-life Bollywood stars and occasional icons as Aamir Khan (of the 2001 international hit Lagaan), Shahrukh Khan (star of the recently stateside Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), Rani Mukerji (2008's Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic), Abhishek Bachchan (2008's Sarkar Raj and Dostana) and John Abraham (Dostana).

Most of the musical numbers play under montages, but there is one full-out, film-within-a-film full production: the joyous "Baawre," the aforesaid circus-set number that's worth the price of admission alone. OK, that's hyperbolic. But it is a ravishing cornucopia of color, sounds, shapes and sizes, as dazzling as the movie is down-to-earth.