“That was close – but you managed” (Luck, 2009)
When Sanjay Dutt isn’t acting as a UN Ambassador or getting involved in national politics, he makes time for the occasional film role, just for nostalgia’s sake. This is lucky for filmgoers, because as Akki heads down rom-com lane, there’s a big gap in the action genre that the sleepy-eyed Dutt’s got the pedigree to fill.
Luck’s plot explores the idea of, er, luck as an independent force, a “weapon that can change people’s fates.” Some people have more, some less, and some have extraordinary amounts that can win them big money if they recognize and use it. Woody Allen mined this theme with less physical and more psychological exploits in Match Point.
Imran Khan is the main figure in this action/thriller, as Ram Mehra, an honest guy who just wants to get enough money to pay the mortgage after his dad dies so mom has a secure home. What a nice boy!
After robbing the bank where he works, his luck saves him from being apprehended, as Lakhaan Tamaang (Danny Denzongpa, and note the nice double pun on “luck” and “lakh”), pulls him off the street and makes him an offer that helps him win big money gambling.
But after a tense standoff with a pit boss who wants bet money back from Tamaang, Ram’s spooked. Tamaang bets his life against Ram’s luck to get out of debt, and though Ram wins, he’s not happy. He’s a regular guy who’s just been lost in nocturnal cockfights, mouse races (!), poker, you name it. Life-and-death is a little more than he’d bargained for. He tells Tamaang he’s done.
If this all sounds pretty straightforward, it’s the review’s sleight of hand – by now we’ve seen flashbacks, met new characters whose role in the plot isn’t clear, and have no idea why Moussa wants Ram around. If you haven’t been confused a few times by the time the plot gets this far, you’re in a rare category.
Turns out there’s a regular Khatron Ka Khiladi / Fear Factor going on in remote South Africa – Moussa assembles a crew of lucky people who then compete in deathly games, with worldwide betting on who will survive. The winnings get higher as the game goes on, and so do the stakes. And the audience is on a rollercoaster ride to see who will come out alive.
The film’s tagline is “The only thing certain about luck is that it will change,” which seems fitting – the plot is an evolving grab bag of storylines, jumping between past and present. It’s not incoherent, and script development brainstorming sessions must have been fun. Plucky teenage camel racer, check. Swimming with sharks, check. Trains with landmines on the roof, check. I could go on all afternoon. Writer/director/publicity designer Soham Shah previously directed 2005’s Kaal, and without getting catty it’s probably fair to say that this time around he might have been best served to focus on just the storytelling.
Filmic devices mirror the plot – some scenes are dark and murky, some are overexposed to the point of looking like a bad bootleg, sometimes the color tones are sepia. We’ve got fast cutting to convey tension, shots repeated more than once to underline their emotion, and shaky cam for gritty reality. Unfortunately, these artifices, carefully planned though they must be, only highlight the plot’s lack of cohesiveness.
It would help if the characters were developed with enough depth that we actually care what happens to them. There are all kinds of quirky folks including Ram’s vaguely Goth love interest, Ayesha (Shruti Hassan), but they are little more than devices to kill time (and the occasional song) with their individual sob stories. Characters here are secondary to the action, but without audience investment in them as humans, the action becomes empty stunts. We know they have all experienced tragedy, but the details are glossed over so briefly and the actors seem so untouched by it that it doesn’t seem real.
Overacting is left to Chitrashi Rawat, whose character seems to have come from scrappy street youth central casting. Bhojpuri film actor Ravi Kishan veers into unhinged and crazy like a cartoon character. Again, one wonders if more focused direction could have helped ensure the roles were well sculpted.
None of the characters are an emotional focal point for the audience to attach to, which has the effect of making the “games” non-events. Who cares who lives or dies?
The story isn’t stupid, though it would benefit from tighter editing and more structure. The actors gamely act out their various personality types and the film isn’t a total bore, but it’s all a little flimsy. Songs are integrated into the film by playing over scenes, in the newish method of keeping a film “serious” by avoiding picturizations (aw c’mon – can’t those kids dance?) or saving them for the end credits.
For all the switcheroos going on in the film, it has a heaviness that’s sometimes more funny than breathtakingly fun. There are all kinds of faux-philosophical platitudes sprinkled throughout the film like “luck always favors those who play from their heart.” These sometimes provoked audience laughter, which I don’t think was the plan. The ruminations and revelations come off as gimmicks in a film that could have been retooled to stand on its own. The final surprise about Ram comes off as a cheap twist without a reason to be there.
You probably won’t leave the movie feeling totally cheated, but if you can remember much about it the day after, consider yourself lucky!