Zoya Akhtar, whose directorial debut Luck By Chance is a refreshing take on Bollywood's manipulations and double-standards, says she virtually had to knock on all the big doors of filmdom for casting someone in the lead role, but no one agreed.
"It doesn't help to be this one's daughter and that one's brother. Farhan's name got me access to the stars, but no one does a film for who has sent you," Zoya, daughter of well-known lyricist Javed Akhtar, told IANS.
"The hardest part was the endless waiting to find the actor. I was dying to get behind the camera. My producer Ritesh Sidhwani kept telling me not to get low, we'll find the right guy. Little did we realise that the right guy was sitting in the room with us," she said of her director-actor brother Farhan Akhtar.
The film shows the dilemma of outsiders and strugglers in the industry and Zoya says she herself had to go through the grind.
"I went through these times when I felt I just didn't fit in. I went through lows when I wondered when I'd finally be able to make a film. But the trick was to hang in there. Thank God for family and friends. Thank God for Farhan. They kept my morale from sagging to ground level," she said.
Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi wanted her to change the ending because they didn't want to play a Bollywood struggler. But Zoya is happy with the final outcome.
"I got the cast I wanted and now the climate in movie theatres has changed drastically. Audiences are open to all kinds of experiences. This is the best time for me to come out. When I started casting for 'Luck By Chance' not many directors were willing to push the envelope.
"The thing about my film is that the hero is a bit of an ambitious user and liar. A lot of our heroes were apprehensive playing a grey character. They wanted me to change the end to make the protagonist look brighter. I refused. You've to stick to your convictions," she said.
According to Zoya, Farhan was the best thing to happen to Luck By Chance.
"It was (director) Reema Kagti who suggested I do Luck By Chance with Farhan. It was the best decision I could make. He knew the script in and out. He was part of it from the first draft. And every time an actor would say no to my film, I'd discuss it with him and wonder where I was going wrong.
"I didn't feel insecure, I felt sad and angry. I never felt what I was making was wrong. No one close to me suggested that I change the script to make the hero less grey."
Being a casting director, Zoya has seen strugglers first hand.
"I know the character Farhan plays. I've met him before this film. And I've cast lots of actors and stars from the industry either as themselves or as characters."
On the sets Zoya had to forget her leading man was her brother.
"I maintained a certain decorum with Farhan. It was hard. I tried to keep him not involved with what was going on off camera, so he'd focus on what he was doing."
And Zoya can't praise actress Konkona Sen Sharma enough.
"She completely spoils a director with her disciplined approach. I wonder how I'll find another actress to match her easy-going professionalism. She was literally a part of our crew. Where will I find someone who's brilliant and so easy to work with?"
Although Hrithik is a star, signing him on for the cameo wasn't so difficult for the debutant director.
"He plays a star named Zafar Khan. Getting him was quite easy. I was working with him in another film Kismat Talkies. And when that got delayed, I went back to the one that I wanted to do earlier. He liked Luck By Chance too and wanted to play Zafar Khan. His song is a homage to all item songs in Bollywood.
"My film is about success and failure, winning and losing and self-worth. It could've been set in any other industry," Zoya said.
(Subhash K. Jha can be contacted at email@example.com )