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Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Anatomy of Zoya Akhtar Films

Zoya Akhtar is an acclaimed filmmaker who has given some convoluted works of cinema.

Her films encapsulate a world within the world – be it the film industry in Luck By Chance or the rap-culture in Mumbai with Gully Boy. 

Many of her creations are also rich ensembles, reuniting some popular actors on one-screen which has redefined the conventional meaning of ‘commercial’ cinema.

Even her external surroundings play a major role in forming the landscape of a narrative, metaphorically or practically.

Having observed her movies with a close eye, Filme Shilmy reflects on key components which make Zoya Akhtar works revolutionary.


This is quite instrumental across many of Akhtar’s films. Be it friendships or relationships.

A key example is Dil Dhadakne Do (DDD), the focus is on an elite family and their erratic dynamics with each other.

Neelam and Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah) don’t see eye-to-eye with each other and that translates into the bond with their children is almost non-existent.

As a family, their interests are solely for materialistic purposes and to maintain their familial prestige, even if it comes at the cost of their own.

In fact, the dysfunctionality is not even limited to the Mehra clan, but also extends to other elites.

Furthermore, it’s interesting how the father-figures are almost tyrannical in most of her works.

For instance, like the fathers of Murad, MC Sher in Gully Boy (GB) and Vicky in Bombay Talkies, whose relationship with son is also dysfunctional.

However, in Luck By Chance (LBC) and Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara (ZNMD), the dysfunctionality is hinted through various friendships.

Like in LBC, there is a subtle hint of it through the friendship Vikram (Farhan Akhtar) and Abhimanyu (Arjun Mathur).

Then in ZNMD, the basic premise of conflict is the tiff between Arjun (Hrithik Roshan) and Imran (Akhtar).

In the same film, we also witness the maladjusted relationship of Kabir (Abhay Deol) and Natasha (Kalki Koechlin).


There is often the view that Zoya’s movies focus on the elite class but this certainly is not the case. Since her first film, we’ve always seen a subtle take on both strata of society.

The most apparent distinguishment is essayed in GB and her segment in Lust Stories (LS).

In GB, camera shots signifying Dharavi with wealthier part of the city makes a strong statement about the current condition of Mumbai.

Songs like ‘Doori’, ‘Azaadi’ and ‘Jingostan’ exhibit the concepts of social injustice.

Lust Stories revolve around Sudha (Bhumi Pednekar) and Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam) are secretly in a passionate sexual relationship.

It is revealed that Sudha is his maid, who arrives daily to clean his bachelor apartment.

A heart-wrenching short which exhibits the ‘lower social-economical class’ who fall in love with those of the ‘higher’ class.

Her movies act as a colourful lens on the rasping lifestyles and conflicts of both worlds.

Parallel Protagonists

The ideology of “opposites attract” may (or not) work in reality, but in Akhtar’s movies, it sure does.

ZNMD and DDD, her two biggest ensembles with multiple actors, however, the central protagonists are polar opposites to each other.

For instance, in ZNMD, Arjun is a workaholic who invests more time in his work rather than enjoying life.

Then he meets Laila (Katrina Kaif), an Anglo-Indian diving instructor who motivates him to embrace the present and separate professional from personal life.

As for Kabir (Ranveer Singh) in DDD, he is an obedient, dutiful son who manages the family business when he yearns to become a pilot.

This ambition lingers at the back of his mind until he meets Farah, a dancer who elopes to make her life and passion a reality.

These differing protagonists help the lead to realise their truths… Be it light or dark (as in Lust Stories).


Suppression is a theme which is instrumental in all Zoya Akhtar movies, be it by the system or hierarchy. 

Nonetheless, the most frequent form of suppression is represented through misogyny.

It’s thought-provoking how she’s also exhibited angles of head-strong women whose wishes, dreams & desires are suppressed by class divide and patriarchy.

This view is essayed through characters like Neelam and Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) in DDD, Neena Walia (Dimple Kapadia) in LBC or Razia Ahmed (Amruta Subhash) in GB.  

Even in her segment of Bombay Talkies, the young child boy who aspires to be a Bollywood dancer suffers pressure at the hands of patriarchy. 

As such, the ventures proceed to exhibit how they also rise above it, giving a different sense of empowerment.
Although genders play a significant role, that is not always the sole focus of the ventures.


All of the explored topics accumulate to the underlining theme of self-discovery.

Whilst this sounds obvious, but all the characters in Zoya’s works explore this, not just main leads. 

For instance, in ZNMD, the journey is not just limited to the ‘three musketeers’.

It is equally relevant to the supporting and background characters.

Similarly in DDD, the process of finding oneself is not restricted to Kabir and Ayesha.

Even the dog Pluto (Aamir Khan) seems to go through this experience.

Of course, GB being an ideal underdog tale, is itself an ode to self-discovery. 

Having said that though, it is not just limited to Murad but is the inspirational story of others in Dharavi.

Collectively, these instrumental aspects make Zoya Akhtar movies an enriching watch.

In addition, she also provides a voice for the voiceless as well as exhibiting the fight against suppression.

There is a strong revolutionary and rebellious streak to her cinema which erupts as art onto celluloid. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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