Thirty-year-old Zoya Akhtar has big shoes to fill. The young director makes her film debut in Bollywood with Luck By Chance, in cinemas this week.
Her father, Javed Akhtar, is only one of the most revered screenplay writers in India today (he co-wrote the epic Sholay), mother Honey Irani is an accomplished writer-director herself and her brother Farhan produces, directs, sings and acts – in fact, Farhan is the lead actor in LBC, cast opposite Konkona Sen Sharma.
With such an illustrious background, expectations are ridiculously high, but this bright new director comes with credentials of her own – she's been a casting director, assistant director and producer in the past.
Emirates Business talked to Zoya about her debut film and the difficulties she faced with her family name.
You have the distinction of being the sixth filmmaker in the family. Do things come easy?
I was born into the profession. But when it came to my career, I started out handling the casting for extras in Bhopal Express, Split Wide Open and Kama Sutra. Later, I handled big stars in Lakshya and Dil Chahta Hai.
Did you ever think about pursuing another profession?
I love movies and they are a common topic of discussion at the family dining table. I have had practical knowledge about filmmaking, right from the breakdown of the script to capturing the whole story on camera.
It was not as though I had to really think too deeply when choosing my career – it has been a part of my life. I know the ins and outs of the process. I just hope my work will be admired by audiences – they are the real judges.
How do you deal with the competition and the inevitable comparisons?
There is no competition within the family. Everyone is happy with their work.
And the film world has inspired LBC, too?
A starlet and a struggler meet while trying to navigate through the film industry and end up changing each other's lives forever. All this takes place in Bollywood, where ego clashes are the name of the game.
In short, it is about destiny and the fact that one has to believe in kismet.
Were you always sure LBC would make a good debut film?
I read quite a number of scripts, but the reason I chose LBC as my debut film was because I wrote it in one sitting from start to finish. I was very confident about the subject. Most filmmakers trade on their experiences. So being from the industry, I wanted to tap into the subject but as an outsider.
I've tried to relate to my friends who are not born into Bollywood but want to be a part of the glamour.
Has the economic recession affected your film?
What goes up has to come down. Similarly, the current economic crunch is not going to be permanent.
Did you face difficulty finding the lead actor?
Choosing a lead is always difficult, so I will not deny that I had trouble. Sometimes when you zero in on one person, he doesn't have free dates and so on. But finally everything ended well.
But what made you cast your brother, Farhan? Is it true Saif Ali Khan turned you down?
When someone is around you all the time, you don't really notice them. That was the case with Farhan.
None of us in the family ever thought about casting him. My friend Reema Kagti was the first to cast him in her film and she suggested his name. That's when I began to consider him. Saif was not in the running at all. Konkana was signed on after Farhan. But the rest of the ensemble was always in place. They were all my first choices.
What were your challenges as director?
The biggest challenge for me was not to be disappointed when people refused to do my film. I was dead sure the script was excellent. All I needed was to wait for was the right time and make the right choice. Everything fell into place then.
Did you face any prejudice as a female director in male-dominated Bollywood?
The industry needs good original directors with new and exuberant ideas. Their sex does not matter.
Bollywood is going global these days, with large markets opening up in South Africa and even Nigeria. What does the future hold for the industry?
The Indian film industry has gained popularity internationally because many Indians have settled abroad. We should feel happy and privileged that our films cater to the Western countries too. The bigger the market, the better the prospects.