Remember D Dhenier, S Tendeher, Hurvaj Singh, and Z Kalm from EA Cricket 2007? Imagine EA was to come with an update, retain the same characteristics and have better names? You get the ragtag Indian Cricket team of The Zoya Factor lead by a charming Dulquer Salmaan playing captain MS Dhoni, I mean, Nikhil Khoda. Modern-day Nostradamus, Anuja Chauhan, writer of the best-selling 2008 novel, The Zoya Factor, which serves as the source material of this film, denied modelling her book on Dhoni.
However, director Abhishek Sharma, and screenwriters Neha Rakesh Sharma and Pradhuman Singh, seem to be convinced they are making an almost biopic of Captain Cool. They show no intention to mask it as fiction. Why else would Khoda’s jersey number be 7, and a promising young batsman’s jersey be 18? It pushes us to spend much of our time making a mental connection of each reel cricketer to an existing one.
The Zoya Factor begins with Shah Rukh Khan giving a voiceover about how the worlds of Dulquer’s Khoda and a vivacious Sonam Kapoor Ahuja’s Zoya Sharma Solanki, who works in an ad agency, have a lucky meeting. Born on the day India won their first World Cup, Zoya is considered to be a lucky charm by her family, and this superstition is extended to the Indian cricket team when a chance breakfast with her helps them end their losing streak.
In a sport where one of the living greats always wore the left pad first, no wonder Zoya becomes an overnight sensation. The transformation from being an unlucky ‘middle-class’ girl who gets dumped by an “okay-looking bald” dentist to an haute couture sporting girlfriend of the Indian cricket team captain is decently sold by a Sonam, who returns to Bewakoofiyaan and I Hate Luv Storys territory. These portions are hilariously written, and the performances by the supporting cast of cricketers, especially a moustache-twirling opening batsman Shivi and a long-haired fast bowler, are effective.
Coming back to Anuja ‘Nostradamus’ Chauhan, who receives credits for additional dialogues, how cool is it that her book about ‘Luck’ and the world of cricket revolves around Zoya, and the satirical 2009 film, ‘Luck, By Chance’, marked filmmaker Zoya Akthar’s directorial debut? Too much of a stretch or a cool coincidence? The answer to this question will determine your reaction to The Zoya Factor, which does briefly venture into satire but is pulled down by its reluctance to remove the safety net of romcom.
Although the central conflict between Zoya’s luck and Nikhil’s hardwork should have been arresting enough, it is unlucky that we are left with cardboard villains.
Both Angad Bedi’s Robin, an ex-captain, and his influential uncle doubling up as the President of the Indian Cricket association, are woefully one dimensional. However, what works for the film is that for every ‘textbook shot’ cliche, there are enterprising ‘switch-hit’ characters. Be it the uproarious cricket commentary or Sanjay Kapoor and Sikander Kher as Zoya’s father and brother, respectively, having a blast, or the Anil Kapoor cameo, or even the frequent breaking of the fourth wall by Zoya, the film has a lot of things going for it.
In a smart move, the profession of the leads lends a lot of credibility to the innumerable product placements in The Zoya Factor. From chocolates to emulsion paints, and PVC pipes to superbikes, there are more products per square inch than an Ikea warehouse. Heck, there is even a chain of hospitals being paraded in The Zoya Factor. While this has been a grouse in any other film (yes, I am looking at you Bang Bang), it doesn’t feel too out of place in The Zoya Factor. But there are two things that are unforgivable — 1) The shoddily filmed cricket sequences that are as bad as Dulquer’s fake six-pack from the trailer 2) The Tendulkar lookalike in the film not only missing from the final but also not batting in a single frame.
A love story is only as good as its leads, and Abhishek Sharma gets the casting right. Every time Zoya gets dreamy-eyed around Nikhil, you understand why. Every time Nikhil lets down his guard and smiles around Zoya, you understand why. Even their meet-cute scenes, which frequently involve light bulbs, fireworks, and random road trips are adorable enough for us to shake off that sense of deja vu.
In the initial years of this decade, we saw a number of harmless urban romantic entertainers in Bollywood. Those films that were perfect first-date material, and more often than not, starred Imran Khan. However, the numbers of such films began dwindling when Bollywood became all about biopics, nationalistic fervour, and rooted realism. I’ve always believed there is space for an Ekk Main Aur Ekk Tu or a Meri Pyaari Bindu. The ones that you watch when dreamy-eyed in love. The ones you watch on a lazy day with your better half. The ones that made you wistfully wish to be replicated in your life too. The ones that made you believe in love, and luck...by chance.
Film: The Zoya Factor
Director: Abhishek Sharma
Rating: 3 stars