Zoya Akhtar has given audiences a glimpse of La Tomatina festival in Spain (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) and a holiday cruise (Dil Dhadakne Do). But it was when she ventured into the lanes of Dharavi that she scored her biggest hit in Gully Boy. The film grossed Rs 134 crore in India.
Akhtar's reputation has been built on the basis of her original screenplays, written in collaboration with filmmaker Reema Kagti. "It's not easy to write, and not easy to write with someone. We are both extremely dogged and hard chicks. We met in our early 20s as assistant directors and have been mates for a very long time and are practically family." In 2017, the two started Tiger Baby Productions.
Akhtar has proven herself equally adept with short film and Web series. In Netflix's Lust Stories, she presented a biting critique of the veiled prejudices of the educated, cosmopolitan middle class living in metros. For many the short was her response to critics who have pigeonholed her as a director whose works present the voice of the privileged. It's a description she has never taken kindly. "You can't critique the socio-economic background of the characters; that's senseless. You can say it didn't work for you, the gaze was wrong, the politics didn't work."
Then again viewers can't help but watch Akhtar's take on India's obsession with extravagant weddings as evident by the success of Amazon Prime series Made in Heaven, which Akhtar co-wrote and directed the first two episodes of.
The show is further proof of Akhtar's deep understanding of the socio-cultural aspects of the world her characters inhabit and her ability to draw out compelling performances. It's why every actor has her in their wishlist.