- Gaurav Patki
- 01 October 2019
Cracking the Ensemble Cast Narrative
Script Analysis of 'Luck by Chance'
LUCK BY CHANCE (2009)
(Directed By: Zoya Akhtar Written By: Zoya Akhtar, Javed Akhtar)
Creating a fascinating world for an engaging primary character is crucial to make the story work. But what if the story is not only about the hero but also the world itself? Then, the task becomes all the more challenging. The risk is that when a film aims to be about ‘everyone’ it also can easily become about ‘no one’. Zoya Akhtar, story and screenplay writer, succeeds in telling an ensemble narrative in her very first feature film, Luck by Chance.
The success of Luck by Chance is anything but what the movie’s title suggests. The narrative is woven with a lot of craft and heart. It’s often said that the writers should write what they know! They are the gods of the universe they are creating. So, they must know the universe from within. On top of that when it is a story about multiple characters, it is not enough to crack the central storyline. All the characters, their journeys, and their interpersonal dynamics must find a rhythm to engage the viewer.
Good ensemble movies are a rare treat in mainstream storytelling. Most of the mainstream films are star-driven vehicles which are put together only to encash the star’s popularity. Moreover, it is genuinely a tough task for a writer to write such stories with multiple important characters.
We know how difficult it is to even write a by-the-book script about a single protagonist. If we decide to create multiple interesting journeys for various characters that also influence each other, the writing doesn't only need to get sharp but also nuanced. Luck by Chance is not a film which is only about Vikram or Sona, the two struggling outsiders in a nepotistic industry. It is also about a yesteryear’s producer, a fading female superstar, her daughter’s entry in films, insecurities of a mega-star, a failed director and many such characters.
We can see two distinct worlds in the movie. One that defines glamour and business of Hindi films and the other is the world of outsiders who struggle hard to make their mark. The stakes are high for each character, from the first big break to falling movie career and yet, as the title suggests, they are unable to control their success or failures.
Vikram and Sona are the two anchors of the film. In some way, the audience sees the film from their point of view. It is a parallel track of Romy Rolly's attempts to produce a film where we see the actual world of the film industry. Vikram, our hero, doesn't crack into this world till the midpoint and Sona hardly ever enters it. The writers manage to make the viewers curious about both these worlds.
In such movies, the significant task the writer has is to create three-dimensional characters. Unlike other narratives where sub-characters are there to serve the protagonists, in such stories, all these characters will have their independent tracks and graphs. In the case of ensemble stories with so many characters, writer need to write each one of them in broad strokes to make them work in a given short amount of time. But more importantly, the writer must be able to catch the pulse of such characters. Otherwise, these broad strokes characters become caricatures. In this film, the writer manages to develop endearing, lovable yet realistic versions of such characters.
As we discussed, in this genre the writer can't rely heavily on 'hero's outer want'. That hook is not strong enough because the film has already chosen to go beyond that. So, the writer must make every track/ every character work. The nuanced and layered scene-writing has made Luck by Chance more than just an outer-want story. If we read carefully there is hardly any scene that is only about one thing. Multiple characters, set-ups, payoffs and odes are woven in the scenes.
The theme is a strong connect in such narratives. In single-hero stories, we can serve only one aspect of a philosophical theme but the ensemble narrative allows us to explore it from different angles. Because the world views are not restricted to your hero; instead the writer gets a wider space to explore different layers of the central theme of the story.
Coming back to the point of writing ‘what you know’ - When we don’t know the world we are creating and merely rely on our perception of that world, it rings false. Irrespective of the genre of the film, knowing its world is of utmost importance. By choosing this story, the writer has made it work in her favor, as she knows the Hindi film industry. The narrative manages to grow beyond the popular myths and cliche expectations out of the film industry.
Her take on the industry and its morals is so lived-in that the portrayal of the characters doesn’t remain unidimensional to make us feel sorry for underdogs and angry towards the powerful people. We see many scenes where supposedly powerful people of the industry are also vulnerable and insecure. They become humans, for the audience. Also, because she doesn’t take a binary stand, we don’t see the film industry as a necessarily wrong place. It has good and bad sides as any other industry that involves people! The characters like Romy Rolly, Neena Walia, Zafar Khan etc. are written so well that we could see them as people and not cliche versions of producers or old heroines or superstars.
Storytelling is not only about balancing the sides and finding a mid-point. It is not an intellectual debate to win. You need to tell the story that speaks to your viewer’s heart. The writers love for the film industry helps her find the soul of the movie. The writer also doesn’t shy away from making some really hard choices. She doesn’t want to tell an aspirational tale of the film industry. So, she doesn’t hesitate in exploring not-so-popular spaces such as the journey of the central character, Vikram Jaisingh.
Vikram’s track has a very obvious beginning of an underdog hero. He is the young outsider trying his luck in the industry. He struggles with his career, fights with his friends over failures, finds solace in a struggling girlfriend and later, with his charm, talent, manipulation and luck he finally gets the big break! Afterward, his real journey begins. The world he has become part of, starts to change him from within. His arc doesn’t remain positive anymore. But that only makes him more human and makes his journey real. The writer’s success is that she doesn’t villainize his negative arc and lets him have his space.
All these nuances and layers could work only if the writer has the hold on the craft and doesn’t become indulgent. Luck by Chance is a story with a heart which is also told meticulously. This is what makes the film what it is - A well-told inside-story of the fascinating world of Hindi films.
So, that’s it for Luck by Chance. Next, I will take up another film to analyse and discuss it’s significant aspects, from a script point of view. My series will focus on some of the mainstream Hindi films of past ten years that are known for good screenwriting. Let me know your views about my observations, or any queries, in the comment box below or email me.
Here's a list of the earlier articles in the series:
1. The right set of characters - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Wake Up Sid'
2. When the 'telling' overrules the 'story' - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kahaani'
3. Being true to the characters and their world - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'
4. The 'switch' you weren't expecting! - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Badlapur'
5. It's all about everyone's family - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kapoor & Sons'
6. Slice-of-life done well - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Piku'