Just two films young, and Zoya Akhtar has already emerged as one of the most influential directors of this generation. From her strong sense of visuals, her contemporary treatment of characters or the fact that she is the only current director in Bollywood who dares to pack in half-a-dozen stars in one frame, Zoya has carved out a unique space for herself.
The buzz around her June release Dil Dhadakne Do (which stars Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma, Farhan Akhtar, Shefali Shah and Anil Kapoor) is enough proof of the fan following this filmmaker enjoys, especially among the youth. While Dil Dhadakne Do is still a while away, here's a look at five things that make Zoya's filmmaking style stand out.
She understands women and men
Zoya Akhtar is that rare filmmaker who can depict the perspectives of male as well as female protagonists. Her films are rarely skewed towards one point of view and are distinguished by their emotional balance. Each time there is a conflict in the plot, the characters are shown dealing with it the way most real people do; there is rarely any melodrama. Even the not-so-easy-to-like characters are shown as believable and full of heart -- be it the shrewd rising star (Farhan Akhtar) in Luck By Chance, or the over-possessive fiancée (Kalki) and selfish father (Naseeruddin Shah) in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. You care about the characters even when they are up to no good.
She understands travel
For long our filmmakers have been selling us montage shots of firang tourist attractions, coupled with hammy extras to pass off as locals. But with Zindagi Ne Milegi Dobara (and hopefully now in Dil Dhadakne Do too), Zoya managed to transport her audiences to the breathtaking places being shown on screen. Zoya has raised the bar for all and proven that showing travel in the movies is much more than just snappily edited postcard shots... It's about making the viewers a part of the character's journey.
She understands her brother
Farhan Akhtar may have swept the awards for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, but Luck By Chance and ZNMD showcase the Dil Chahta Hai director in a manner only Zoya seems to capture -- be it the distinct sense of humour, or the sensitivity and vulnerability beneath the witty persona. Well aware of her brother's strengths, she knows how to project him on screen, making him stand out even in the presence of a star-studded ensemble. Just watch the trailer of Dil Dhadakne Do and you will know what I mean.
She understands locations
Nobody shoots opening credits like she does. From an authentic, behind-the-scenes peek into the dusty sets of Mumbai's suburban studios; or to the accurate look at differences between economy, business and first-class air-travel --- the first three minutes of both her films pack in more substance than what most films manage in three hours. The opening song in Aamir Khan's Talaash deserves a special mention, with its presentation of Mumbai's after-dark underbelly. While she may have only co-written the Talaash, Zoya's observant eye for detail is more than evident in this film's outstanding credit sequence.
She understands Bollywood
In spite of having all the qualities of a new-age, unconventional filmmaker, Zoya's directorial voice remains firmly rooted in good ol' mainstream Bollywood. Friendship, separation, loneliness, ambition...These are themes explored even by her legendary father in those iconic Salim-Javed screenplays. But Zoya has cleverly served them with a contemporary twist that appeals to a new generation. Even her ability to direct ensembles is perhaps a throwback to the golden era of multi-starrers, when one got to enjoy many faces for the price of one ticket. Zoya's filmi-quotient is evident in the way she has managed to extract pitch-perfect performances from veterans like Rishi Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Anil Kapoor and Dimple. By adding a touch of sensitivity to the all-star cameos in Luck By Chance, she turned those glam sequences into memorable on-screen moments. In Zoya's movies the body may be international, but the dil is very much Hindustani.