Zoya Akhtar, in Luck By Chance, has understood something fundamental about satirising Bollywood that's been overlooked by makers of dozens of previous spoofs, from Bombay Boys to Om Shanti Om. She's understood that exaggeration, the traditional weapon of parody, is useless in this case. The Hindi film industry's culture and its products are so over the top that further hyperbolising is redundant or counter-productive.
This insight, and the privileged experience that comes with being daughter of the industry's most celebrated script writer and lyricist, have enabled her to create almost a dozen characters who are at once believably realistic and hilariously stereotypical. Hrithik Roshan, Alyy Khan, Anurag Kashyap, Juhi Chawla, Manish Acharya, Isha Sharvani, Saurabh Shukla and Sanjay Kapoor all make an impression in their respective roles, but the show is stolen by one of Bollywood's iconic pairs: Dimple Kapadia and Rishi Kapoor. Kapadia plays a faded actress turned star-mother from hell, and Kapoor has his best role in decades as Romy Rolly, an old-style producer ditched by his lead actor at the thirteenth hour. The cameos and character roles bolster, and occasionally overshadow, the central story about two migrant wannabe actors, Vikram Jaisingh (Farhan Akhtar) and Sona Mishra (Konkana Sen Sharma), trying to make it big in a field dominated by insiders.
Luck By Chance is almost an excellent movie. The film's many virtues have been discussed by reviewers who've been generous with their praise. I'll list the drawbacks that prevent it from being the film it could have been:
1) The action tilts too heavily in Farhan Akhtar's direction. At the end, we realise the film was meant to be about two lives, but for most of its length it seems primarily about one.
2) Akhtar is adequate as Vikram Jaisingh, but not quite the rakishly charming leading man he needs to be. Both he and Sen Sharma are too old for their roles.
3) The fine detailing in camera movement and production design visible in early sequences fades in the later stages. The movie feels like it was shot more or less in sequence and the crew's energy eventually flagged; or the production fell seriously behind schedule, forcing crew members to cut corners.
4) The pace of the narrative is too even.
5) The final encounter between Akhtar and Sen Sharma is a massive let down. The writing, lighting, framing, and setting are all unimaginative, and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's score, never inspired, plunges to its lowest point.
6) Luck By Chance needed more edge to be truly effective. Farhan Akhtar seduces his way to stardom, but his escapades are all joke and no sizzle. Sen Sharma's relationship with Alyy Khan is treated with a 1950s sort of coyness. And when Dimple Kapadia reveals the dark truth about her childhood, there isn't enough bitterness in her voice.
The film, ultimately, is scared of profundity.