“I have directed Farhan all my life!” – Zoya Akhtar

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Posted on January 26th, 2009 in Interviews, Stars

The buzz surrounding Luck By Chance began with the release of the cast list and since the first promo premiered, huge numbers of fans have looked forward to seeing the film. Directed by Zoya Akhtar, the film has an all-star cast including Farhan Akhtar, Konkona Sen Sharma, Hrithik Roshan, Juhi Chalwa, Sanjay Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Isha Sharvani, plus many other stars “appearing by chance”. Zoya is new to directing but definitely not new to films. She has been an actress, a producer, a writer and now she takes on the mantle of director. Her subject? A look at the Hindi film industry. I got a chance to speak with her about the film and she gave us insights into what prompted her to write the story, how it was to work with Farhan and Koko, and all things Luck By Chance.

What can you tell us about the story of Luck By Chance?

It is a story about a struggler and a starlet, which are played by Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma, respectively. They both want to make it as movie stars, and they meet, and their relationship with each other changes. In the end they change each others lives forever, but I think the main theme of the film is your self esteem and how you view yourself and your take on life and how that actually affects your destiny. Eventually, in success and failure, who decides where you fit in? So, that is basically what it is about.

What sparked the idea for the film in the first place?

Well, actually I wanted to write a script because I wanted to make a film. I had a couple of ideas, but this is the only idea that came the easiest to me. I think it is because it is what I know as well. I am from the Hindi film industry. It is so full of lies in this business that if you are observing and you are seeing people, you kind of wonder as to how they deal with it. How you can maintain yourself, a sense of self and a sense of balance and a sense of where you fit in and who you are, in a world where you are considered this or that and there is nothing in between. Also, even though I have been a part of the industry, I have been a bit of a fish out of water; my circle of friends has been slightly apart, the exposure I have had thanks to my parents has been a little different. A lot of my friends that are in the arts and in films are actually all people that are not born and bred here, they are people that have come into Bombay from outside, and I have seen them, and I have seen them making it. So, basically it is about outsiders coming in, and I think I can relate to that.

How long did it take you to write the screenplay for the film?

I wrote the first draft in 3 months, then of course there are rewrites and updates but I had trouble with casting. I left it and actually went to another script. So, when I actually got down to making it I had to update it because the time had changed, the industry had changed, so I updated it a bit, and it did not take that long, actually.

Did you write first and then decide to direct, or was it always that you wanted to be the one to put this on film?

I was writing it for myself.

When you were writing it, did you have Farhan in mind for the lead?

When I was writing it I wasn’t really thinking about the actors, I was just writing the story. Once I got a screenplay out I began thinking of casting, but it was a terrible time at that point. It was a couple of years ago and the climate was very different, the audience was different, and the palette was different, you know. It wasn’t the kind of film that would get green lit really easily. I was having a really hard time casting it because actors didn’t want to play the lead in this film because he’s got different shades, and they are not used to playing those kinds of characters. Thankfully, that has changed. So the casting process did not go very well when I started off, I have to say.

How was it directing your brother?

It was good; I have directed Farhan all my life (laughs) so it was like coming home. It was very easy. Also, it was great because I had to do very little homework with him because he has been involved with the script from the time I wrote it. He really knew the character inside out and he knew the script inside out. He knew my take, my perspective. He probably is the closest thing to my sensibility, and it was very easy. So I had a couple of readings with him and that was it. I didn’t have to work on him much at all. He just knew it backwards.

How do you feel his performance turned out in the film?

I am very happy with him, I’m really happy with him. Like my producer Ritesh would always say every time I would have a casting setback, you know it is just not happening because it is not the right guy and you should just believe that, because the right guy is going to happen. And little did we realize that the right guy was in the same room, but none of us knew it at that point. And it was true because he is just perfect, perfect.

So how did you decide for him to be the lead?

A friend was thinking of casting him in her film and he was going to do it, but then the dates got pushed and he was shooting Don. So when I was doing this she told me, why don’t you think of Farhan? Then it struck me, yea, why not him. So we talked to him and he said he would love to do it because he really liked the script and that is how it happened, but he didn’t strike me.

What do you think attracted Konkona Sen Sharma to the role?

Konkona plays Sona, who is a girl who does big roles in Hindi films and she is actually waiting for this big break that has been promised to her. So, Koko I think really empathized with the character on a level because she has also been there. She has had her fair share of struggles. You know, wanting to make it but you are not the perfect fit, you don’t fit in, people are not looking for your type, they are not looking for the way you look, that kind of thing. And you know I think she got it. I think she liked the way the character evolved because she starts somewhere and she ends somewhere, and I think the evolution of the character is what attracted Koko to it. The path of someone who is not so confident, in fact she is slightly needy and ends up with somebody who is okay with herself and okay with were she is at. I think that is what attracted her.

How was it directing her?

She’s fantastic – she spoils you. She is just fantastic because she works really hard and she is always on time. She is actually like a cast member who is like a crew-member. Sometimes you have to realize that you still have to treat her as the leading lady of the film because she is extremely comfortable. She doesn’t complain: hours, whatever you are making her work, she is just really easy. She is effortless in her performance. She is just there, like, you know? There are certain actors you want to try something different with, but even with their best intentions they can’t give it to you because they just don’t have it, but with her, she is just here and she can give you something completely different. I found it really, really easy to work with her!

Hrithik also plays a small role – how did that come about?

Hrithik and I were working on another film together and he wanted me to write another script for him, and at that point I didn’t feel like doing that film so I told him I wanted to make this movie and that there is this supporting role that I would really like him to do. He heard it out and he really, really liked the script, and he has never played a part like this before. I mean, for him it is a guest appearance but it is full fledged, it is a role, you know, but it is a guest appearance. He is playing a star in the film. Nobody in the film is black or white, so he had got his own shades and it is humorous. He has got a very deadpan kind of humor. It was great fun working with him and I think he really enjoyed himself. Because the onus of the film is not on him, there is a bit of freedom to do your thing in that way.

What about the other cast members like Juhi?

Juhi plays the part of the producer’s wife, and I needed someone who had comic timing, I needed someone who knows these women. I call them the Bombay Blondes. They are like the Blonde brigade and Juhi knows them. She does not have a very huge role, she is not one of the big leads of the film, and she knew that. I told her, you know, you can just look at it like, I don’t have the meat like the other characters have, but you are the juice of the film. And I said I want you to be blonde and I think that just got her. You know she has never looked like that in the movie, so it was fun for her. She just dressed up and she had all this bling on and she was blonde and she had a laugh you know on the film. So she’s fun.

What is your favorite scene in the film?

I have too many. I have too many scenes I like, you know how it is. I don’t have one favorite. And I am too close to it. I think maybe in a bit of time I can look at it and say that one is good.

What did you find was the hardest thing to do as a director?

The hardest thing to do as a director? That is an interesting question. I think the hardest thing to do as a director is to keep answering questions actually up to a point. You know you have to repeat yourself a lot and I think that sometimes gets very tiring. Besides that, it is a lot of fun.

You said that there are a lot of shades to the characters. Is that hard to get out of actors when you are working with them?

Sometimes, but you know you have to cast right. So, (a) you have to cast right, and (b) you know you want to work with certain like-minded people, people that are open to doing things, people that have a certain sensibility and have an understanding of human nature, because that is what it is, the film is about people. It’s not about some media-made event, it’s about people, and it’s about how people behave and how their egos rub against each other. It is different personalities coming together and their interactions, which cause patterns that favor some and don’t favor some. So, if you have people with your sensibility and they understand that it is just part of being human, they can go ahead and they can go that extra mile for you, as opposed to being just the good girl or the hero. It’s just about honesty.

What is your favorite thing about being a director?

I just liked the whole process of it. You are telling a story and you finding that you can do with it what you want, you are telling it the way you want to tell it. I think that is too much fun, because you are involved with everything. It’s all about you at the end of the day. You learn a lot. It’s my first film so I am still learning. But I think that was just a lot of fun. What is interesting is that I hope I have different kinds of stories to tell and I hope they are completely different cinematic experiences for people. Every story has its own style and has its own mood to it, and that would be interesting. It is the creating of the world. I think directors are just liars, so the better the liar the better the film. It’s fun, it’s fun. You know you are creating a world and I think that’s a lot fun. I learned a lot on this film.

Do you think you had an advantage since you wrote the script that you were also the director? Do you think you will be able to do the same with someone else’s script?

Yes, why not. I mean, I am a writer, so I don’t think I would be able to just pick something up and do it without having my input in it. I could definitely work with another writer but I am sure I will want to do stuff to things. Definitely.

What’s your favourite song on the soundtrack?

My favorite track changes every week. I have been through the entire album but my favorite track currently is ‘Sapnon Se Bhare Naina’ or ‘O Rahi Re’. Those are the two tracks I am totally tripping on right now, but it changes weekly. I just love the album.

I love Rahi Re. I love the album.

Have you have heard it? What did you think?

I got it on iTunes. I loved it; it’s a great album

Oh excellent! Thank you, thank you!

Are you nervous about the release?

I do get nervous sometimes, but sometimes I am just really excited, and sometimes I am just really tired, so I am just like whatever, you know. I go through my moments but, yea, of course. I am sure I will get more and more nervous as it gets closer but I am sure it’s going to be fine!

Do you feel there is a lot of extra pressure or expectations from you because everyone in your family is famous and successful?

You know, I don’t know what people are expecting or not expecting in that way. For me, I feel like the pressure is not because they are famous and because they are successful. I think the pressure is because they have a certain standard and a certain quality of work they do, and I think that is very important for me to meet. I just want my work to be good. I want the work I put out to be of a certain standard. I think that for me is really important. I mean if your work is good people will like you – its simple. That is like, the end result!

What influence have the different members of your family had on you?

Film was always a part of our lives growing up. We have both been movie geeks on a level, Farhan and me. Besides Hindi films, we got exposure to a lot of world cinema, and by that I don’t just mean Hollywood. We were born when my mum was pretty young, so when she went to film school we were like 8 and 9. We used to go to film school with her on the weekends and we had a projector and we would be watching films on the wall in my house. So it was a huge part of it and I think the biggest influence was that it wasn’t just all Hindi film centric. You know, we were exposed to a lot of things, exposed to a lot of the arts. My dad was really a big influence on me reading. I read a lot because of him, I think. I feel I have a bit of my dad’s observation skills. I mean, he is a keen observer of human behavior, he always points stuff out and I developed that from him on a level. And I hope to have gotten this from my mom, but she is incredibly non-judgmental of things, there is no judgment attached. So I think I am a mix of that: an observation of this world but there is no judgment here. I’m not judging anyone here. I think it is coming from an influence of both of them.

Favorite and least favorite movie of 2008?

You know I am not the right person to answer this, because 2008 I have spent only working on making my movie so I haven’t seen many of the films. It would be a very unfair thing for me to say because I haven’t seen half the films! I haven’t seen A Wednesday, I haven’t see Oye Lucky, I haven’t seen Rab Ne, I haven’t seen Dostana, I haven’t seen Ghajini, so you see I haven’t seen half the films so this judgment will be ridiculous! So I shouldn’t answer this question.

An actor or actress you would give an arm and leg to work with?

I wouldn’t give my arm and leg for anyone my limbs are too precious to me. (Laughs)

So then an actor or actress you would love to work with?

I would love to work with Rani. I’d love to work with Kareena. I really like them; I think I would like to work with both them. Actor-wise I would like to work with Hrithik; I would love to work with Hrithik again. I would love to work with Farhan again – it was a fantastic experience. I would love to work with Naseeruddin. I would like to work with Aamir.

What projects do you have lined up for the future?

I have a couple of ideas, but right now I don’t know which way I want to head or do. I want to write something new. I am waiting for this to happen and my work to be done, then I am going to take a holiday and then I will see how I feel. What’s feeling good at the moment.

What do you do like to do when you’re not working?

I watch movies, actually. I read. I love food, so I eat and I like to travel, so that basically covers what I do in my leisure time.

What do you think makes Luck By Chance different from anything else?

I mean, it has to be that it is my take. It can’t be anyone else’s. It is how I feel. It is what I think. It is how I view life on some level. It can’t be anyone else’s because it is purely mine.

We feel very lucky that Zoya was able to take the time to answer our questions during the final production phase of the film. I really enjoyed speaking with her! We wish her the best of luck for the release; we know we will be there first day to see this exciting film. With such an excellent first outing we know we can expect some great movie-watching experiences to come and can’t wait to see what’s next!

Luck By Chance opens on January 30th so be sure to check it out and be sure to check back at BollySpice.com for more exciting interviews with some of the cast from the film.

Kuch Toh Bolo!

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