And now we are at an end! In a very long complicated section, complete with special guest star (I won’t make you wait, it’s Shahrukh). (full index of Luck By Chance coverage here)
First note! “Hrithik sees his doom”
This is the second half of the scene I ended the last part with. Karan tells Hrithik that Farhan should thank him, it’s always the way an outsider gets their chance, when the star turns down a risky part and they get an opening. And then Hrithik looks at Farhan across the room and his face shifts slightly as he realizes the mistake he made.
If Farhan succeeds, the only person who will really suffer is Hrithik. That is, the older male stars are the only ones really afraid of new young male stars. And it’s the older male stars of a certain level. The ones on their way up, still climbing. And suddenly in the middle of their climb, they see someone else coming up to catch them.
To put it in present day terms, Shahrukh isn’t afraid of Varun Dhawan, he’s too big and has a place that is too unique to ever really feel threatened like that. If he goes down, it’s not because he’s being “replaced”, it’s because he is leaving and there will be a permanent gap. John Abraham isn’t afraid of him either. John is settled into the place he has, it’s not a hugely important place, but it’s his own, and he’s done trying to get any higher.
(See? John doesn’t care)
But the person who is afraid of him (maybe) is Ranveer Singh. Or Shahid Kapoor. Or Sushant Singh Rajput. They are moving along climbing the pyramid of success and the higher you get, the fewer places there are. Someone else on a parallel route to yours will, eventually, intersect with your path and have to fight you for the next step up.
Next note “Media as justice, all accept it”
Okay, a lot of plot here! Shobha De (I think it is her, real life gossip maven if you didn’t know it) is yelling at Konkona’s friend to dig up something interesting on Farhan. He knows that Konkona got her heart broken when she went to visit her committed boyfriend on set only to stumble into his affair with Isha, which she got confirmed by her dance master friend (staying in the poorer hotel, not the luxury place with the stars). Plus, they already have confirmation that Isha has been seen sneaking in and out of Farhan’s place. And so, with all the rumors swirling around, they right the story. Farhan slept his way to the top, cheated on his girlfriend with Isha at night, and flirted with Dimple during the day. This is the front cover story of the magazine.
My favorite part of this is how everyone just accepts it. We see all our main characters picking up the magazine, reading the article, smiling slightly. There’s no anger at the injustice or lack of privacy or anything like that. This is the way of the world. People misbehave, use people, and the media is there as a watchdog to report it.
Next note “Fight over article for career not personal (Isha gets it)”
This is the scene where suddenly Isha’s character goes from kind of a joke to being a serious interesting sympathetic person. First, she is furious with Farhan for lying about having a girlfriend. She doesn’t care that he was using her to advance his career, flirting with her mother during the day and her at night. On some level, she kind of already knew that. She may have been inexperienced in every way, but she knew the film industry. She knew part of the reason their romance was so easy was because he was making it easy for her, wanting something from her. She never fully bought into their “grand romance”, she was too much her mother’s daughter for that.
(Just gonna leave this here)
But, like her mother, she is also ultimately fair. Having a harmless foolish fling on set, not a problem. Cheating with another woman’s boyfriend, BIG PROBLEM.
But the reason I really love this scene is she blows past the “you told me you didn’t have a girlfriend! I asked and you told me!” bit, and jumps straight to “This is my first magazine cover of my career! You come off great, everyone is talking about you, they didn’t know who you were yesterday. I come off foolish and worse than before and this is my first magazine, it’s going to haunt me the rest of my career!” This is something that is so obvious to her she can’t believe she has to explain it to him, and Farhan doesn’t even think about it. Because ultimately, if Karan is up top seeing how the whole industry works, Farhan is down on the bottom not really seeing beyond his own nose yet.
Next note “Farhan unaware that stories just come out”
Here’s the other thing Farhan just doesn’t see. No one else cares how this story comes out. Stories just come out. Everyone on set always knows everything. That’s why you have to be careful. It’s a waste of time and energy to try to track it back, Isha is already moving on to consequences and next steps, everyone else is just reading the story and enjoying it, no one is bothering with “where did this come from?”
Next note “Puja over film reel”
When I was writing my book, I put in a thing about how film and religion/spirituality overlap, and my editor gave me a hard time about it. But, THIS! This is what I am talking about! Drawing a holy swastika on the reel, having the priest bless it, and Juhi, Rishi, and Sanjay all being completely sincere about it. This isn’t just “tradition”, this is a living faith that God and film and prayers are all related.
Oh, and it’s also a sign of how deeply they care about their film. This isn’t “oh well, if it does well our studio will make some profit” kind of attitude, this is caring deeply deeply deeply about how well the film will do, about the film itself.
Next note “Visiting single screen”
There’s so much here! First, to see how the film is really doing, they go to a single-screen. Because that is their audience. I don’t know if people do this any more, or if they just go to multiplexes and ignore the rest of the audience. But they should! Because this is the real test of a film, if people are cheering and dancing in the aisles it means it is really really good. Not if they are sitting politely in a multiplex vaguely smiling.
Second, everyone is comfortable in a single-screen. They aren’t going “ew, it’s not air-conditioned, the floor is sticky, the people are dirty!” They are fine with this place, happy here and delighted that the people like their film. They are making films for single-screens because they are of single-screens.
And finally, they are with their film start to finish. They aren’t sending a secretary out to see how it is playing in theaters, they are going themselves. Star, producer, producer’s wife, everyone.
Next note “Dimple gets real”
The film is a hit, and what does that mean? There’s a bunch of scenes here. Farhan’s old friend of a friend, the one who worked for Bhatt films, offers to give him a “narration”, and Farhan casually accepts it. Farhan is now the one other people want to do them favors. Rishi and Juhi are riding high and happy, relieved that they will live to work another day. Alyy is silently in the background, too petty to fully enjoy others’ happiness, while Sheeba is truly delighted.
But what of Dimple and Isha. Dimple, sitting just outside Isha’s pink pink bedroom, orders her to call Farhan and congratulate him. Isha refuses, not in a petty tantrum way, but because he messed with her career, lied to her, she doesn’t like or trust him. And Dimple lays it on the line.
What Dimple describes here, her coming to the industry as a teenager, being called to “producers” houses, suffering through all of that to get to the top, this is real. This is the story of dozens of successful actresses throughout the history of the film industry. And it’s why getting a “good” launch is so rare and important.
This is why Deepika was lucky to be launched opposite Shahrukh in a Farah Khan movie, and Anushka opposite him in a Yash Raj film. Heck, this is why everyone wants to be launched in a Yash Raj film. Or Rajshri. Or Dharma. There is a small number of studios that are professional enough and established enough and just plain moral and ethical enough that you don’t have to worry about being pressured to sleep your way to the top. And then there are the little fly by night studios, the ones run by the Alyy types. Where you don’t have that luxury.
And this is why the Dimples of the world make sure their children get the “good” launches. It’s not that they are trying to take all the good roles for them and away from the outsiders, it’s that they are trying to protect them from ever having to go through the kind of horrible stuff that outsiders have to survive. They want them to work with a solid honest producer and in a film big enough that they will have too much power to ever be in danger again. What parent wouldn’t want that?
In a larger sense, what person who has known this young woman her whole life wouldn’t want that? Think of Salman picking up Sonakshi for Dabangg. Her father knew she would be totally safe on that set (I know Salman has odd relationship/women stuff in his past, but we can all agree that if you hand your daughter over to him and say “take care of her”, she will be protected like a precious jewel). And from the flipside, if Salman knows that this young woman he has watched grow up wants to be an actress, that might make him feel a bit of a responsibility to make sure she has a “safe” launch, more so than he would towards a woman he has never met before.
What makes this speech especially brilliant is who is delivering it. Dimple is one of those actresses who probably didn’t have to go through this. She was launched by Raj Kapoor, who was “safe” (at least, if you were a 14 year old girl, he liked slightly more experienced women). And then she got married immediately. And by the time she returned to film, she was too old and too connected to have to worry about that kind of pressure. And so we can watch it, knowing she isn’t revealing any secrets about herself. It’s not the same as if, for instance, Rekha was giving this speech when you would have those moments of doubt that she might be working through something personal in her scripted speech.
But, on the other hand, if it was someone like, well, Sonakshi Sinha 20 years in the future giving this speech, we would kind of hate her. Because she never struggled like this at all, she had it all handed to her, what right does she have to talk about sacrifice? Could she even give this speech with the kind of hardness and surety that Dimple is bringing to it?
Because, yeah, Dimple has SEEN STUFF. Not the exact stuff she is describing, but STUFF! Becoming famous at 14, married at 15 to the biggest superstar in the history of Indian film (at that moment), surviving a terrible marriage, leaving that marriage and starting her career over again, raising her daughters alone, launching them alone, alllllllllllll of this. And that’s how she can tell this spoiled little girl to suck it up and do what it takes to maintain your place.
And now Isha, the character, has seen stuff too. She was used by her first boyfriend/man she slept with. And she has to see him periodically for the rest of her life, and smile and keep it inside. And that’s life.
Way way back at the beginning, I talked about Konkona seeing Isha on TV and hating her for seemingly having it all easy, taking “Konkona”s earned big break. Only, that was wrong. Konkona didn’t know Isha’s struggle, didn’t know that she hadn’t earned it herself.
Isha grew up in a mansion, and got her big break and career started at 19. But she isn’t just strolling through life. She has stuff no one else knows about that she has to work through. Everyone does. You can’t say she didn’t “earn” her place, because you don’t know what she did to get there.
And this is why Dimple is so brutal to her. Because she knows the world will be even more brutal. She raised her daughter safe from all the vultures who could destroy her, but strong enough to survive it when, inevitably, she got her first heartbreak.
Next note “Shahrukh in a ‘senior’ attitude”
WOO-HOOO!!!! Shahrukh!!!! And it just hit me that this was 3 years after Don, which means Shahrukh is being all “senior” and Farhan is acting all respectful and “junior”, but 3 years earlier Farhan was the one in charge as his director. Just kind of odd to think about.
Anyway, let’s break this scene down bit by bit. First, the fact that Farhan and his friends are even in the same restaurant as SRK. They are no longer hanging out in apartments, or at tiny little cheap places. Farhan has the money and confidence to swagger into the places that the big people go. There’s an automatic barrier there that they have broken through in order to see Shahrukh at all.
And then there’s his friends telling him and Farhan agreeing that he HAS to greet Shahrukh. It’s not a “suck-up” kind of thing in this case, it’s a matter of respect. This is something I just really don’t get coming from outside of the Indian context, that is, I know it is a thing, but it is something completely foreign to how society works in other places. As I understand it, although they have never met before, Shahrukh would be considered Farhan’s “senior” in their shared community. Which means it is his obligation to go over and greet him, just as much as it would be his obligation if he were a jeweler, say, and was in a restaurant and saw a leading jeweler of the city sitting across the room. To not greet him would be an insult he can’t risk having noticed.
And from Shahrukh’s side, it is his responsibility to politely accept this greeting. Not necessarily to give advice in return or anything like that, that is going above and beyond, but to say “nice to meet you in person, I liked your film, good luck to you.” To not do that would be an insult as well. And if a “senior” does that enough, eventually word will get out and they will be in trouble with the community.
But then Shahrukh goes above and beyond and invites Farhan to come sit with him. Pausing in the middle to make sure it is all right with Farhan to leave his friends. See, this is the moment when he is giving up his “senior” status, giving Farhan permission to leave without insulting him. And I think it might also be a bit of a test? Not like Shahrukh (the fictional or the real) cares that much about Farhan’s friends, but he has to spend 5 minutes with the boy anyway, might as well try to size him up a little. Is he the kind of guy who will say “thank you sir, another time, I am with my friends now”? Or is he the kind of guy who dumps his friends for a movie star?
Farhan is too slick a character to make it obvious, plays it as though he might just want to sit with Shahrukh in order to learn from him, out of respect, not because he doesn’t care about his friends. And maybe that’s why Shahrukh tries to redeem him. Reminds him that he should be with his friends, he should treasure those friendships with people he knew from school, from before.
It’s good advice, but it is not being given to someone who can use it. We’ve seen Farhan with these friends even before. He never valued them, was never capable of valuing them. Just saw people he could use. And now Shahrukh’s advice is just telling him a different way he can use them, to keep himself “grounded”.
I don’t want to bother listing out all the many many many real life examples of this. I’ll just give a simple one. When Karan Johar’s father died and he suddenly needed someone to help him run Dharma, he called up Apoorva Mehta. Who was his best friend in high school. He needed someone he could trust more than he needed someone with experience or connections or power. And we see that over and over again. It’s part of the reason that people work with family, because they won’t see you as “Megapowerful Superstar”, but as “the little boy I used to beat up”. But even beyond family, it is the friends from college or high school, from before you “made it”, who are most likely to become your business partner, your CFO, all those things that you need someone who will tell you the truth and really care about you.
(Karan and Apoorva)
Next note “Ronit Roy-Film to TV and back again”
Small thing, but I love the casting of Ronit Roy in this small part, as Konkona’s co-star in her TV show. Because he is kind of the male version of Konkona’s character. Well, male and about 10 years ahead. He was a regular “hero’s brother” kind of actor in the early 90s. Then switched to TV where he found a stardom he never had on film. And then came back to film in small interesting parts, while still maintaining his TV work. Well, he is about to come back to film, Udaan came out one year after this movie. So, if we want, we can kind of pretend we are looking into the future. Konkona’s character has found fame and steady work on TV. And maybe in 5-10 years, she can come back to film without worrying about striving for success, but just enjoying playing interesting roles.
(Ronit Roy, aged very nicely)
Next note “‘Some people are just made like that'”
This is such an amazing kiss off line. Because it is completely cold-blooded. Konkona isn’t even angry any more. Farhan comes to see her on the set of her TV show, and asks her to be with him, says he has never been as happy as he was with her. And Konkona listens politely, and then points out that he never said anything about her, just about what he wants from her. But it’s okay, “some people are just made like that”, never able to think of anyone besides themselves.
This film is a brilliant character study, and I am sure Farhan is based on someone Zoya has known in real life. Not even necessarily someone famous, just a friend from college, say, who she really liked and then got to understand and didn’t like any more. Because we’ve all known these people, the ones who are friendly and nice and funny and you love spending time with them. And then, slowly, you start to notice how they never offer to pick you up from the airport, or listen that closely to your problems, or remember your birthday. And you start to realize that it just isn’t in them to think of someone else that way, to put someone else ahead of themselves ever. And that’s okay, they are still nice and funny and fun to be around. But you won’t really open yourself up to them or rely on them.
That journey Konkona is on to understand this about Farhan is the same journey the audience has been on. We start out seeing him as charming and endearing and kind and wonderful, and we want good things for him. And then, slowly, we start to get more and more disgusted with him, to see more and more flaws in him. We can’t blame Konkona for having been fooled, because we were fooled too! And that’s a really tricky thing for a filmmaker/scriptwriter to pull off, making the character appear completely different at the end than at the beginning, without being untrue to the kind of person he is, or making the audience feel like the person he is at the end couldn’t be the same person he was at the beginning.
Next note “Konkona-made it on my own”
And now, finally, we are back to it being Konkona’s story. It was all along, really, we just didn’t see it all the time. Farhan was there to teach her a lesson. She didn’t want to be a star wife, she didn’t want to cheat her way to the top, her true happiness came from knowing she had her own life and her own freedom that she earned herself.
That’s the thing about the film industry. It’s a place where a girl from a small town who doesn’t want to get married can come and make it on her own. Whether that is Konkona or Dimple. Or Juhi, for that matter. Or even Isha, in her own way. It gives you independence. Yes, you get battered and beaten along the way, but you can come out of it with a kind of security that you would never get anywhere else.
It’s a community that lets in outsiders. Not in the way Farhan wants in, not at the Kapoor parties and on the cover of FilmFare. But in the way Konkona now appreciates. She has friends, she has support, she has a place in the world. And that was all open to her, there all along, it just took an interaction with someone who would never have those things (Farhan will never have true friends, never feel he has earned his place, never have the support of others), to make her see what she does have.