Javed Akhtar's Daughter Zoya Gives Filmmaking Her First Shot With 'Luck By Chance'

Zoya Akhtar gives filmmaking her first shot with Luck By Chance, a movie about two strugglers trying to make it in the film industry

Zoya Akhtar
WHEN Farhan Akhtar was in college, he went through an aimless phase, watching films all day and wondering what to do with his life. His sister Zoya, older by a year, never went through that. "I was never aimless; I always loved the movies. When I was in college, I started copywriting, but the movies were always more exciting and at 21, I was assisting Mira Nair. And yet, it took me this long to make my first film," says Zoya, flinging her arms out, seated on a low-level sofa hugging the floor of Excel Entertainment's office.

Zoya Akhtar With Brother Farhan Akhtar
It took her seven years, but now Zoya's Luck By Chance is ready for release on January 30. The film is an often humourous, often sad, inside look at the industry through the eyes of two strugglers (played by Farhan and Konkana Sensharma) who want to make it. It takes a whimsical look at success and failure, and how it all hinges on the choices we make. "People think I'm successful and some feel I'm a failure, but who's making that decision?" asks Zoya, "I've grown up in this hit/flop madness. We weren't filmi kids — we were on the fringes, like flies on the wall looking in. But you still love that world; it's home!"

Farhan and Konkana Sen Sharma in Zoya Akhtar's Luck by ChanceAudition in process

Zoya wrote her first draft seven years ago, lying on Palolim beach in Goa, just after Dil Chahta Hai released. "I hand wrote it and it was some ridiculous, epic-length when I came back and transcribed it on my laptop. The first film is the easiest to write because it's usually what the person knows — their personal graphs, milieu and feelings. Luck By Chance is not about established actors, but those who are waiting for things to happen. Farhan's character is fresh off the boat, while Konkana's does bit roles, looking for a big break."Zoya is all-too familiar with that scenario; she did casting for films like Bhopal Express, Split Wide Open, Kama Sutra and Bombay Boys and was casting director on Excel films like DCH and Lakshya. She's watched the auditions for hundreds of wannabe actors and she grimaces at the thought. "Many times, the actor says, 'I'll do my own scene' and falls straight on the floor, yelling, 'Ma!' and it's all you can do not to laugh. But it's tough, like a meat market. Having someone judge your looks, voice, body. I don't know how you can do that to yourself, it's awful! Which is why we send rejection letters — it's rare in our industry."

Casting calls

Zoya knows about rejection too. The cast of Luck By Chance went through a host of names, like Madhuri Dixit, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol, Karisma Kapoor and Tabu. Zoya and Honeymoon Travels Ltd director Reema Kagti approached so many actors for their movies, it became a running joke between them. "We were competing for who would be turned down more times, by worse people! It was ridiculous," she exclaims.

Hrithik Roshan plays a superstar in Zoya akhtar's Luck By ChanceZoya brushes the wait under the carpet now, happy with her cast. Her film now has several cameos, while Hrithik Roshan plays a superstar in it. "Yes, okay, Farhan is my brother and the producer, but the biggest part for me was the match of our sensibilities. He's known Luck By Chance from the first draft, broken down characters and intent. He knew each scene backwards. He was ready to go," she exclaims.

Dialogues by dad

And as is with her family, Zoya handed her script for readings ("we're great at feedback"). Luck By Chance helped from advice from her father, scriptwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar and mother, screenwriter Honey Irani. In fact, Akhtar has even written Luck By Chance's dialogues, incorporating, as Zoya puts it, his bizarre sense of humour.

Brother Farhan too was always there for Zoya. He has spoken of how little he remembers his parents' separation, mainly because Zoya protected him through it, but the big sister shrugs it off, saying, "It happened so long ago and everyone is happy in their spaces that it feels almost like another lifetime. Farhan and I are really tight and our fights have changed over the years. First it was 'get out of my room', now we're more into cold wars and 'let's talk about this later.'"

At the suggestion of it, Zoya laughs, "I give a s*** if people think that Farhan ghost-directed this, as long as people just go in and watch my film!" We have to ask… Zoya is, after all, the Rock On!! dude's sister. Does she sing? "Not at all," she says with dead emphasis, "I do sing with my ability, but very, very badly!"

Movies in Zoya's list

* Robert Altman's The Player
* Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Guddi
* Ram Gopal Varma's Rangeela
* Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om

'Yes, okay, Farhan is my brother and the producer, but the biggest part for me was the match of our sensibilities. He's known Luck By Chance from the first draft and each scene backwards'

Zoya on getting lucky with Rishi, Dimple, Juhi

Rishi Kapoor: "As soon as I spoke to Rishi Kapoor about the part of the producer, he liked it. I found out that he does a lot of homework — he wanted to go along to shop for his clothes and shoes and did tests for wigs. He usually keeps a goatee, but I didn't want one — I wanted the clean cute vibe. He's played the producer wonderfully; loud and boisterous."

Dimple Kapadia: "I could have had Shabana (Azmi) as the diva, but I needed a mainstream heroine. Only a leading lady would do. Dimple has played it edgy. She's all warm, soft sunshine and then there's a flip and she's hard, cold, steely. What I loved was that she was so good to me."

Juhi Chawla: "When I first met Juhi for the producer's wife, she was sweet and nice. I kept thinking that somewhere along the making, the mask was going to drop. But that's just Juhi, sweet, polite, encouraging. It's not a huge part, but Juhi is the juice."
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