Zoya Akhtar: A Closer Look At the Gully Boy Director’s Career Path on Her 47th Birthday Today
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Zoya Akhtar: A Closer Look At the Gully Boy Director’s Career Path on Her 47th Birthday Today

Zoya Akhtar has directed the critically acclaimed show Made in Heaven and films like Luck By Chance and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Learn more.

Prolific filmmaker Zoya Akhtar was born on 14th October 1972 to lyricist and screenwriter Javed Akhtar and actress Honey Irani. Currently one of the most popular directors in Bollywood, Zoya was not a fan of Hindi cinema till she watched Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay. She pursued a diploma in filmmaking from New York University and made her debut as a co-director of a music video for rock band Pentagram. She also worked as a casting director for Dil Chahta Hai and Split Wide Open, and then went on to assist notable directors such as Mira Nair, Tony Gerber, Dev Benegal and her brother, filmmaker Farhan Akhtar. Zoya eventually ventured into writing/direction on her own, at the age of 35, and since then has been recognised for her immense talent in delivering entertaining drama films and TV series, with her stories mostly based in modern, urban India. Here’s a brief look at her critically acclaimed work:

Luck By Chance (2009) - Zoya’s directorial debut film stars Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma in the lead roles. The story revolves around an actor and his journey to becoming a Bollywood star, while he struggles to maintain his personal relationships.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) - This buddy road film featured Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol and Farhan Akhtar as three childhood friends who take a trip to Spain, during which they learn to face their deepest fears and embrace life.

Bombay Talkies (2013) - Zoya directed Sheila Ki Jawani, a short film included in this anthology which celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema. Zoya’s short film was based on a 12-year-old boy Vicky (Naman Jain) who aspires to be a dancer.

Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) - Starring Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh as members of a dysfunctional and crazy rich Punjabi family, the comedy-drama film lightly explored complicated parent-child, marital and sibling relationships.

Lust Stories (2018) - Zoya’s short film in this anthology depicted a secret sexual relationship between a maid Sudhaa (Bhumi Pednekar) and her employer Ajit (Neil Bhoopalam), commenting on the class divide in Indian society.

Gully Boy (2019) - Starring Ranveer Singh in the lead role and Alia Bhatt as the female lead, Gully Boy is the inspiring story of a 22-year-old Muslim rapper hailing from one of Asia's largest slums.

Made in Heaven (2019) - In collaboration with Reema Kagti, Nitya Mehra and Alankrita Shrivastava, Zoya helmed this Amazon Prime series which follows the story of two business partners, Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur), dealing with emotional turmoil and their chaotic personal lives while they plan weddings for the wealthy. The series was well received globally as it beautifully explored the themes of social class differences, feminism and sexual identity.

Zoya has also co-written Aamir Khan’s 2012 thriller Talaash alongside Reema Kagti. She has received many rave reviews for her work and was awarded Best Debut Director for Luck By Chance and has received several accolades for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, one of her most popular films. More recently, her film Gully Boy has been selected as India’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars. The storyteller believes in cinematic aesthetics and often uses her unique creative sense to portray the glamour and hypocrisies of the rich, upper class of Indian society. Drawing inspiration from personal experiences and observations, she manages to depict characters that very real and relatable, expressing complicated emotions onscreen. Zoya's films stay away from the formula and masala which defines typical Bollywood cinema, yet they still have a strong mass appeal and entertainment value, due to the combination of stunning visuals, fun songs and an ensemble star cast.

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By Ayesha Hoda
Ayesha Hoda is a senior communications professional and writer, currently based in Dubai, UAE.