Zoya Akhtar’s latest film Gully Boy is not just a successful movie but a sea change in the cultural zeitgeist of contemporary Indian cinema. Her first film Luck By Chance (2009) released a whole decade before Gully Boy,and was our first sneak peek into the Zoya Akhtar cinematic universe.
The film is Akhtar’s homage to cinema, a world whose insides she’s seen growing up. Cinema is her religion, something she makes amply clear in the opening credits of LBC—a montage of shots exploring life behind the scenes on a movie set. Away from the glitz and glamour, she shows us what really goes into making a film, while always reminding the audience that nothing is real, it’s all make-believe. Astronauts drinking chai in a small canteen, pharaoh kings posing for a photo-op; junior artists, security guards, chai wallahs, projectionists, tailors, smiling caterers—all standing against a backstage sign that says ‘exist’ instead of exit. It’s not a perfect life, but it exists.
Further inside this machine, we meet two aspiring actors: the hard-working, sincere Sona and the passionate and conniving Vikram—both barely managing to survive in Mumbai, yet wanting to make it big.
Zoya Akhtar makes sure her viewers’ loyalties are aligned with Sona, the underdog, the woman who leaves her family to become an actor. She is not pursuing the wealth, but the art of acting.
The lived-in world Akhtar creates around Sona is real and raw, like a fresh wound you want to touch, but not want to look at. Carrying a change of clothes all the time in case an emergency audition turns up, trusting people blindly in the hope of stumbling upon something real, Sona is all in.
There’s so much to unpack in LBC. Akhtar exposes the industry-wide nepotism, and adds a skillful meta commentary on actors playing dramatized, cinematic versions of themselves. She rolls up a whole universe within a movie experience that goes beyond being a standard song and dance fare.
LBC should be in the starter pack for anyone hoping to be a part of the Hindi film industry, and maybe they’ll have a better chance of making it there. Good luck!