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Zoya Akhtar: I started from scratch after Luck By Chance

At a promotional event for Rahul Bose’s Poorna, the writer-director shared how the failure of her first film shaped her second film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011).

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

Filmmaker Zoya Akhtar was part of a panel highlighting the successes of women in different fields in conjunction with Rahul Bose’s upcoming film, Poorna, about the 13-year-old girl who climbed Mount Everest. Journalist Barkha Dutt, wrestler Sakshi Malik and the subject of the film, Poorna Malavath, were also shared the panel.

Zoya shared her own struggles to make her first film, Luck By Chance (2009), turning down a chance to make a sure-shot hit with a big star. “A lot of people in my life advised me to stay in it but it wasn’t my film. I remember speaking to Mira Nair who I had worked with and my brother [Farhan Akhtar]. Mira [said], ‘What do you want to do?’ and I [said], ‘I don’t want to do it.’ And she [said], ‘You might have to sit for a bit, don’t do it.’ And Farhan said, ‘Don’t do it’," she told Bose. But saying no at that point when you have no way of making of your own story, and I think that helped me towards this. Luck By Chance happened very ironically because of these events because I said no to this and it dominoed into something lovely.”

Zoya Akhtar: I’m not bossy, I’m the boss

Zoya was honest about how her first film, an insightful and often satirical look at the film industry, did not make any money, though it was critically acclaimed and appreciated by audiences. “[On the first Sunday], I was just happy my film released, and by Wednesday, I said, ‘How’s it doing?’ That’s when I was told, it’s not doing well at all. I was like, how can that be? But nobody watched it, they didn’t understand it. I went back to the drawing board and started from scratch.”

This affected her second film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) starring Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif and her brother Farhan. “I [had] already decided I wanted to do a road trip. But then you have to think about how you cast it. You have to think about how you open [the first weekend]. [Those dynamics] kick in,” she said.

Zoya also pointed out that Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was “a dude movie,” and while fellow panellist Barkha Dutt asked what if her characters had been women, Zoya said, “I don’t know if it would have garnered that [same] kind of [attention].”

The second time, Zoya had a much better experience as Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara despite not opening well, had the staying power, it kept making money by good reviews and word of mouth.

Bose worked with Zoya in her third film, Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), which was largely set on a cruise ship.