Thursday, December 3, 2009

Luck: Capitalism Gone Wrong

Another re-post!! I actually enjoyed this one... I know, I know... I have terrible taste, right?

(Danny Denzongpa! Where have you been the last 30 years?!)

Ah… Luck. You crept upon me unawares as I was following the trials and tribulations of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Little did I know that director Soham Shah was attempting his version of post-modern masala. Soham, whose last feature was the poorly-received thriller Kaal goes all out in Luck and manages to make a film that, while certainly not perfect, is a fun entertainer much in the spirit of classic Bollywood films such as Gumnaam. The flimsy premise driving the narrative of Luck is this – some people are extremely lucky and can even cheat death with their super-luck. Sanjay Dutt plays a hulking “business man” named Moussa Bhai, who runs an elite gaming ring and, in the grand tradition of filmi rich men with questionable morals, decides to host a tournament where all of these super-lucky people will test their luck against each other to see who will emerge victorious (and wealthy). Rounding out the cast are Danny Denzongpa as Moussa Bhai’s right hand man and Imran Khan, Mithun Chakraborty, Ravi Kishan, Shruti Haasan, and Chitrashi Rawat as contestants in the game.

Because Luck is certainly far from perfect, even though it was a satisfying potboiler, before I get into what I enjoyed about the film, let me run through a few of the major problems. First of all, the film is very slow to start. We don’t even get to most of the fun stuff, the competition, until after the interval. Rather than grounding us in Imran Khan’s character, who is supposed to be our audience identification character, Luck makes the odd choice to glamorize Moussa Bhai in the opening frames. I have a feeling that this may have been a requirement for casting Sanjay Dutt in the role but in that case, I would have almost rather have had an additional 15 minutes of backstory for Imran Khan even at the risk of dragging out the first half a little longer.

Other than that, my only real complaint with Luck is it’s lack of song picturizations – and with that the lack of chemistry between Imran and Shruti. I don’t know why Soham Shah decided to forgo traditional song picturizations in favor of a montages set to music but I can tell you that it was definitely a mistake. Without the cues of the songs to give emotional depth to the characters, Luck comes across more like a Hollywood film than a Bollywood film in all the wrong ways.

(Chitrashi!! Please be in every movie from now on...)

Still, there was quite a bit to enjoy in Luck. Like Gumnaam, the real fun in Luck is the gathering together of a bunch of extremely talented character actors. Not only was it a real treat to see Danny Denzongpa back on screen, Mithun, Chitrashi, and Ravi Kishan all do a fantastic job. For all the fuss made about Sanjay Dutt’s character at the beginning of the film, we actually don’t see all that much of him. Instead, we’re treated to the capable Danny Denzongpa as the face of the gaming syndicate for most of the film. Sanjay shows up once in a while to menace the contestants but Danny is a better and more effective heavy. Mithun and Chitrashi create a believable and touching surrogate-father/daughter relationship out of not much in the script but Ravi Kishan is the real scene stealer as the psychopath who “lucked” his way out of a death sentence.

(Imran and Shruti as the de facto hero and heroine...)

As for Shruti and Imran, both were more than capable with the material given to them. Imran, in particular, showed that he has potential to be quite big. Imran has these big, expressive eyes which draw focus to him whenever he is on screen. He competently dishoom-dishoomed through some action scenes, did his best to create chemistry with Shruti, and overall proved that he has what it takes to be a masala hero; he has real presence on screen. Shruti, too, did her best with the material, although she suffered a bit from ‘heroine’ syndrome and had to be rescued a number of times. I think a different actress with a more established reputation for toughness, like Bipasha Basu, would have been a better choice for this role in order to balance out the wimpiness of the character for the story’s sake. Shruti, however, showed great potential and I would definitely see her again in something else. She showed more talent in this role than Deepika Padukone has in her three films put together.

(Ravi Kishan busy scene-stealing...)

I’ve dwelt a bit on the cast for one reason, they are what makes Luck worth watching. All too often, the human element is left out from blockbusters – and we, the audience, can forgive a lot of plot errors and low production values if we are engaged emotionally. Seeing characters I genuinely care about put in harm’s way makes for a more exciting film than seeing wooden Barbie doll Megan Fox interact with expensive CGI Transformers. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, since there are some set-ups that need to be seen with fresh eyes, but at one point little Chitrashi is in a situation in the competition where she needs to reach something high up, as quickly as she can, against the clock, and you see all the bravado and attitude kind of fall away as she jumps for the prize, afraid she can’t reach it and my heart just broke. That is worth more to me than the pricy junk-yard barf of Michael Bay’s Transformers movie. Luck is firmly rooted in the cast, much to its advantage.

The money-grubbing subtext to Luck was also interesting to me. Perhaps because I excel at bringing my own subtext to everything I watch, Luck seemed to me to show some remarkable ambivalence about the cruelties of the modern capitalist system. I don’t know about the rest of you, but working in my day job sometimes I wish someone would just give me a big pile of cash to do what I wanted with – the shortcut to a good life. In Luck, the contestants are all getting to act out that desire – risking life and limb for a chance at a big old pile of money. And yet, they find, as characters should do in this kind of film, as Kitty and Rake do in Gumnaam, that the human connection – family ties, friendships, love – is more important than cash but Luck ends on this odd note which suggested to me that despite the cruelties of the market, Luck would have us try our luck and die rather than skip out on the game all together despite the best efforts of Mithun and Chitrashi trying to convince us otherwise.

Are the rich and the lucky really better than the rest of us? Are some people just special? Again, I don’t want to give too much away but I couldn’t help but think back to the end of Caravan where Asha Parkekh makes a conscious choice to give up her inheritance and lead a life of meaning with the gypsy caravan and compare it to the ending of Luck, where we never quite find out what happens to the big pile of cash. I would have liked a bit more closure and a nicer moral ending.

Still, Luck was a lot of fun and much (much!) more watchable than Race, which is probably its closest cousin from recent times.

What did everyone else think?


Anita said...

Was disappointed in Shruti, because her role was small. Same with Imran, but he has a couple of other movies to back him up. Basically, Chitrashi stole my heart, AGAIN, and saved the movie completely. Also, probably add Mithun to that list as well, and Ravi Kishan was rather creepy, especially since I had just seen him playing bade bhaiyya on Rakhi Sawant Ka Swayamvar! XD

shell said...

I have this but haven't watched it yet. Maybe I'll try to work it in soon and then I can add in my two cents.

bollywooddeewana said...

I locve your take on this but i shall reprt back after viewing, i did enjoy Race in a superficial/pick me up entertainment kind of way

Filmi Girl said...

@Anita I wasn't disappointed with Shruti as much as I was with the poorly-done scripting of her character. I wish we had gotten a certain reveal earlier in the film so we, the audience, could get a better grasp on Shruti's awesomeness.

@shell You might enjoy it! It's trashy fun!

@bollywooddeewana If you liked Race you might like this one, too! :)

ajnabi said...

This is SO SHALLOW of me, but I cannot get over Shruti's resemblance to Ashlee Simpson. It just bugs me. And I know how hypocritical that is because I make fun of my husband for comparing Kareena and Paris Hilton. :-D

My word verification is "saddu." It's an endearing sort of sad.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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