The Zoya Factor is exaggerated, overexcited, silly and cheesy. And we deserve a lot more films like it. Mostly because we’re so deprived of breezy romcoms in Hindi cinema.
Where the film loses on plot it wins on packaging. Its light charm, lovably simplistic characters, zany dialogue and general pulpiness, makes up for the at times bizarre plot, resulting in a largely enjoyable watch. The key saving grace here is the reassuring and insanely likeable presence of Dulquer Salmaan who entirely steals the show. One of the country’s most exciting actors, The Zoya Factor marks the second attempt of the young Malayalam cinema star to break into Bollywood after last year’s sorely forgettable Karwaan. Thankfully he’s far more comfortable here managing to make the dullest of moments engaging with his industrial-strength sincerity.
The Zoya Factor is based on author Anuja Chauhan’s book of the same name and follows Zoya Solanki, a spunky, down on her luck ad executive who encounters the Indian cricket team ahead of the 2011 World cup and is quickly christened their lucky charm (they believe they’ll win as long as they have breakfast with her on the morning of a match). So much so that she is deified by the public and given God-like status in a country that’s desperate to put anything with a pulse on a pedestal. All the while, of course, developing a budding romance with the team captain Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan).
It’s a delightful little premise for a book and you can just see the movie in it. The themes and ideas are all there. This is such an inherently Indian story, one which glorifies superstition over hard work and touches on our crazed media culture, not to mention our obsession with cricket. Unfortunately, in adapting the story to the big screen, writers Pradhuman Singh Mall and Neha Sharma’s approach to the plot is uneven and poorly structured. Zoya somehow becomes the team’s lucky charm mere minutes after meeting them. Then, rather than focusing on that plot point which is clearly the core of the story, it quickly shifts gears to focus on the Zoya-Nikhil love story to fill out the rest of the first half. Post interval the reason for Zoya getting an official mascot contract (??) and deciding to come back on board with the team (leading to a media sensation) is a random lover’s quarrel between Nikhil and her. Luckily there’s enough charm, brief doses of humour (the cricket commentator of all the matches is the rare gag that has you in splits) and energetic dialogue to keep you invested despite things not adding up. In the supporting cast, Sikander Kher is particularly wonderful as Zoya’s steadfast supportive brother and one hopes to see him onscreen more often.
A rom-com like this which focuses on a single character and her perspective also requires s to be rooting for her, and yet at times, Zoya comes across as just plain annoying. She’s a junior copywriter who’s somehow given the best of assignments and constantly complains about her job whilst on an all-expense-paid work trip at a 5-star hotel, tasked with essentially chilling with the Indian cricket team. It’s a tough life. The Zoya Factor is also the kind of film that deserves a far better soundtrack with a few forgettable tracks. There’s also something distinctly problematic about the story of a girl who has a team of 10 guys constantly leering at her, with some of those breakfast scenes feeling particularly strange. There are also a bunch of terribly CGI’d abs for reasons unknown.
As Zoya, Sonam Kapoor is.. well Sonam Kapoor. She’s spritely with wildly overactive facial expressions (she sighs..A lot. And say ‘yahoooo!’ A lot.) She has the required spunky energy for the character but once again her performance is far too often a thing to tolerate rather than enjoy. It makes you wonder – if this is one genre she can’t seem to crack then what hope really is there? Suffice to say the goodwill Neerja got her is all but spent at this point.
Yet, for all her shortcomings as an actor, she stands for a certain kind of cinema we need more of. Be it the sweet Disney-ness of Khoobsurat, the refreshing energy of Veere Di Wedding or the significance of Ek Ladki Ho Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, there aren’t many voices that are looking to tell a certain kind of story. And while I hope what we see is better than The Zoya Factor, I certainly encourage more like it.