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Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye: On the anniversary of the cult film, how a Delhi thief became the Indian Jay Gatsby

It is Lucky, a man who only wanted what we’re all conditioned to want, who is labelled a dangerous criminal in the same league as murderers.

 |  6-minute read |   28-11-2018
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Perhaps Dibakar Banerjee’s biggest contribution to cinema is bringing the most real version of West Delhi onto the silver screen with his films, which gave us Delhiisms galore.

More importantly, they showed us the realities of the way the city and its people work. The power plays of the rich, the callousness of the bystanders, the corruption of the powerful and, above all, the ambitions of the middle class.

Ten years ago, a film called Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! came and went without much fanfare. At the time, it didn’t make much of an impression on most except for the two elements that stood out: it being inspired from a true story of a clever thief, and how relatable it was for West Delhiites who’d experienced first-hand many of the things that the film showed.

A more subtle element of the film that went unnoticed was that it had undertones of The Great Gatsby.

While Jay Gatsby sought social status only so he could be with the woman he loved, Lucky sought it to live ‘the good life’. Even though for different reasons, Lucky’s life is like Gatsby’s: a never-ending quest for a place in high society. It’s something he can never really attain, because of which Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye, just like The Great Gatsby, becomes at its core, a critique of our society at large.

gatsby-690_112718020458.jpgCheers! Jay Gatsby desperately sought social status, so he could be with the woman he loved. (Still: 

Lucky’s story, as shown to us, is roughly divided into three phases. It opens with a teenaged Lucky dealing with his father bringing home another woman while his mother is still alive. Even as a teenager, Lucky’s ambition is very obvious. He wants the nicer things in life. He wants a bike so that he can take the girl he likes for a ride. He wants money to buy her a nice greeting card and to take her out for a meal.

Even though Lucky sees one of his friends killed for being involved with criminals, it doesn’t deter him from stealing, which highlights how big his ambitions are.

What we also see is that Lucky does not like anyone questioning what he can do. Any time somebody questions his grand plans, whether as a teenager or a grown man, Lucky’s response is, “Kyon? Nahi kar sakta?” (Why shouldn’t I do this?)

The second phase is a grown-up Lucky finding the only way to get to where he wants to, given how limited his options are to get rich: becoming a thief. Under the auspices of Gogi bhai (Paresh Rawal), Lucky and his sidekick, Bangali, rise quickly to become clinical and efficient thieves. Lucky’s modus operandi, interestingly, is hiding in plain sight. He doesn’t rob houses only in the dark of the night. He wears expensive work-out clothes and shoes and jogs in posh neighbourhoods to ‘case the joint’ — a clear sign of a privileged person.

Lucky’s ambition is made even clearer when Gogi asks him to drive a minister’s son around. Outside the nightclub Lucky is asked to go to, he sees the ‘creme de la creme’ of the city mingling with each other. Forgetting any consequences, he enters the nightclub dressed exactly like the gentry that he seeks to emulate.

It is in this phase that Lucky meets Sonal (Neetu Chandra), who becomes an added incentive for Lucky to seek the ‘good life’.

He doesn’t care to hide from her that he’s a thief, and also doesn’t agree with her ideas of what is ‘respectable’. Nevertheless, he’s attracted to her precisely because unlike her sister Dolly (Richa Chaddha), Sonal represents the ideal of a ‘good family’. While Dolly likes Lucky, he sees her as representative of the class he’s running away from. Sonal, on the other hand, is an educated, ‘shareef’ girl, who doesn’t care for flamboyance and Lucky turns her into his goal of the perfect life partner to enter high society with.

The third and final phase begins when Lucky escapes police custody after being betrayed by Gogi.

Despite attracting the attention of the authorities, Lucky rises to newer heights. He becomes a pan-Indian thief who commits robberies worth several crores in multiple major cities. Masquerading as a businessman from Dubai, he begins to get some of the respect he craves for. The people he meets finally see him as a member of the gentry.

oye-lucky-690_112718020545.jpgHow lucky can   you get? Lucky sought social status to live ‘the good life’.

This is also when he meets Dr Handa, an upper middle-class Delhiite with ambitions to open a restaurant. In typical Delhi fashion, Handa latches on to Lucky like a parasite because he believes Lucky to be the investor he’s looking for. Lucky clearly knows what Handa’s motives are, but is okay with being used because being the owner of a nice family restaurant will truly make him a member of respectable society.

When he meets his estranged older brother on vacation, we see a glimpse of Lucky’s insecurities.

He’s extremely proud of his brother for being an ‘officer’ in a bank who speaks English fluently, because in his mind, that shows that he comes from a ‘good’ family. What Lucky also craves for, despite not wanting to give up his thieving ways, is social sanction. He can only get this if he gets married to a girl like Sonal with the approval and blessings of his family. This is why he’s really intent on getting his father, with whom he’s never gotten along, to come to his wedding. It’s also why he’s willing to pay his younger brother Rs 2 lakh to come to his wedding.

But Lucky’s dreams come crashing down as yet another person (Handa) betrays him. He uses Lucky’s money to open his restaurant, but cuts Lucky out. The Handas’ demeanour at the restaurant opening makes Lucky feel like a nobody. He goes on a stealing spree, supposedly with the intent to make even more money to get true legitimacy.

Throughout the film, it is clear that despite being a thief, Lucky is a better human being than most people around him. He does not subscribe to the inexplicably puritanical middle-class values that preach austerity and frugality. He isn’t a hypocrite who claims to frown upon something he indulges in himself. He doesn’t use innocent people for his gain. He doesn’t lie about being a thief. He is, in general, a kind and truthful man.

But like Jay Gatsby, Lucky’s quest for respectability remains unfulfilled. The only thing Lucky gets is fame, which he does enjoy, but doesn’t quite fill the void. His father destroyed their family by openly having an affair. His best friend (Bangali) betrayed him, as did his godfather (Gogi). His associate (Handa) used and discarded him, and reaped the benefits of Lucky’s investment. And yet, it is Lucky, a man who only wanted what we’re all conditioned to want, who is labelled a dangerous criminal in the same league as murderers.

Also read: Why Shah Rukh Khan must pay for 'Asoka'. Just not the way the Kalinga Sena wants

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