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Is being a good actor enough to make you a star? In Zoya Akhtar’s detailed sketch of Bollywood and its colourful,conflicted denizens...

Published: February 1, 2009 2:03:31 am

Lucky and clever
Luck By Chance

Is being a good actor enough to make you a star? In Zoya Akhtar’s detailed sketch of Bollywood and its colourful,conflicted denizens,the most important ingredient in a wannabe’s portfolio seems to be that elusive thing called luck.
Luck By Chance,a wonderful colloquialism which you hear only in Mumbai,opens a wide window on our dream merchants: strange-yet-familiar characters we’ve met in fanzines,other films-on-film-people,on TV shows. What makes this debut of Zoya Akhtar,less than what it could have been,though,is in the way Luck By Chance unspools-shuttling between the generic and specific and back again can sometimes diffuse a film: this one,the latest in the line of Bollywood-looking-at-Bollywood ensembles,needed to have been both newer,and sharper to make it the insider story.
But while it’s happening,you can sit back and admire some superbly-designed cinematic moments. Saurabh Shukla,playing the genial acting class guru,tells wannabe star Vikram Jaisingh (Farhan Akhtar): Hollywood ka hero banna bahut aasaan hai,par Bollywood ke hero ko sab kuch karna padta hai. The man who has just shown us he can direct,act and sing in his last film (Rock On) swings a cool Bollywood hip here: watch him gyrate in a shocking pink waistcoat.
Konkona as Sona—the struggler compromising’ with a director who’s been stringing her along,agreeing to bit parts in hope of the big one,facing rejection— is equally first rate. Just like Vikram,who is shown to be not such a nice guy on his way up the ladder (schmoozing with the heroine’s mom,dumping his old friends,betraying his girlfriend),Sona is no doodh-ki-dhuli girl. She knows what it takes,and is willing to do it,but unlike him,she knows where to draw the line. The roundedness of their characters is one of the highs of the film.
So are the other performances,drawn with a fine,sardonic-yet-sympathetic eye. The be-ringed,jowly director (Rishi Kapoor),his trophy wife (Juhi Chawla),the hangers-on (Aly Khan,Sheeba); the talent-less but bade star ki beti (Isha Sharvani,very good),her mom,the super-ambitious yesteryear diva (Dimple Kapadia,terrific),the script/dialoguewriter who has to include the foibles of his paymasters when he writes (Anurag Kashyap in a stand-out cameo; he should seriously start thinking of acting).
Enjoy the walk-on parts of real A-listers. Everyone’s here—Shah Rukh,Aamir,Kareena,Rani,Akshaye. Hrithik’s large-ish special appearance,as Zafar Khan the star who dumps his producer to sign with a more happening one,without a qualm,threatens to run away with the movie.
Despite the occasional lapse into the sort of indulgence a first-time director displays,and the indeterminate end,there’s enough in the film to keep you going. Now that Zoya’s got Her First Movie out of her system,it’ll be fun looking out for her second.

A dull game
Victory

VIJAY (Hurman Baweja),a cricketer from small-town Rajasthan is so good that he should’ve been in the Indian team. But,and this is a story we know well,he doesn’t even get a look-in on the Ranji.
Victory is about Vijay’s rise-fall-rise,the heady feeling of success,and the perils of untrammeled avarice. A greedy agent (Gulshan Grover) gets his claws into the rising star,who slides down the slippery slope of here-now-gone-the-next-instant-fame,forgetting those who kept him grounded,deshbhakt dad (Anupam Kher),and best bud (Amrita Rao).
The film has been mounted lavishly,and no expense has been spared at making it look and feel authentic. A fleet of international cricketers have quite a lot of screen time. They include Harbhajan Singh and Jayasuriya and the dishy Brett Lee: their job is to stand around and applaud while our hero wins the matches.
What makes this film less than riveting is that we know so much of it— the setting,the situations-already. Blame the carpet coverage of cricket on TV channels.
Victory has all the right intentions,but its execution is bland.

SHUBHRA GUPTA

Extracurricular Lessons
Elegy

ELEGY is a grave exploration of desire and desperate flesh that it’s a miracle the two central characters—a literary star named David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) and his younger lover,Consuela (Penélope Cruz) —have as much sex as they do. But there’s very little pleasure to be found amid this film’s penumbral lighting,careful compositions and muffled good taste. Though the film is based on The Dying Animal,a brutal,short novel by Philip Roth. In the novel Kepesh is pathetic and self-loathing who detests his dying body and worships Consuela’s ripe one. In the film,directed by Isabel Coixet,Kepesh is cool and watchful and Kingsley plays him without a trace of plausible weakness.

MANOHLA DARGIS/NYT

Humble Souls,Richly Nourished
The Secret of the Grain

SLIMANE Beiji,the sad,still centre of The Secret of the Grain,Abdellatif Kechiche’s bustling and brilliant new film,might be described as an accidental patriarch. A stubborn,taciturn immigrant from Tunisia,Slimane (Habib Boufares) has spent 35 years working in the shipyards of Sète,a rough French port. The other members of his large,cantankerous family live mostly in a battered high-rise housing project. Slimane keeps a modest room in the blue-collar hotel run by his lover,Latifa,and her 20-year-old daughter,Rym (the amazing Hafsia Herzi),on whom he dotes as if she were his own. Slimane’s story is one of frustration and unfulfilled ambition—after his hours at the shipyard are cut back,he pursues the quixotic dream of converting an abandoned boat into a dockside couscous restaurant—The Secret of the Grain bursts with exuberance and irrepressible sensuality. AO SCOTT/NYT

Safe and predictable
Bedtime Stories

ADAM Sandler,a hero whose main virtue isn’t his looks,kingdom or valour but a likeability that helps you overlook all of it. He is Shrek,with an “ass” by his side. Plus,it has two children whose smiles don’t last ours. So the story of a hotel handyman with dreams of one day owning a hotel of his own,and his fanciful bedtime stories to his nephew and niece which come real isn’t as implausible as it sounds. Sandler’s cheery earnestness stands him in good stead; you want what he wants. Skeeter Branson doesn’t have much experience with kids,but an interaction doesn’t really throw his world upside down. Life is good,it could be better. Especially with magical luck helping?

SHALINI LANGER

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