“The Zoya Factor”… A harmless cricket-based satire/rom-com that just about makes it past the crease

Posted on October 3, 2019


The champagne-lightness of the writing just pops on screen, though the leading man needed a better leading lady.

Spoilers ahead…

It’s a fabulous premise. A junior copywriter unlucky in love and (generally) life transforms into the Indian cricket team’s lucky charm. In other words, the ugly duckling turns into… And how does this fairy tale happen? Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) was born on the day India won the World Cup. Of course, the planets are in alignment. The team thinks they’ll win if she’s around. The cricket board thinks so, too. And after a couple of wins, so does India. “Sab ko darshan milenge,” says a manager, when Zoya steps out of a hotel elevator and sees the corridor teeming with worshippers. As soft stabs at superstition go, The Zoya Factor is right up there with pk — but with a twist. Nikhil (Dulquer Salmaan), the team’s captain, doesn’t buy what Zoya is selling. He believes in hard work. So the film isn’t just about the battle between blind faith and rationality, it’s also a battle of the sexes, a rom-com.

The Zoya Factor is based on Anuja Chauhan’s bestseller of the same name. I haven’t read this book, but I took a stab at Those Pricey Thakur Girls and found it tough to get past a 100-or-so pages. The plotting felt mechanical and the characters didn’t have one surprise between them. All of which may just be another way of saying I am probably not her target demographic, but the champagne-lightness of her writing — driven by director Abhishek Sharma’s ad-film smoothness — just pops on screen. (She is credited with dialogues, along with Pradhuman Singh.) Even the heavier moments, like when we discover why Zoya loves fireworks or when Zoya gets drunk on her success, go down real easy. There’s an appealing silliness to the character, and the film.

The cast helps. Sanjay Kapoor, as Zoya’s father, is a kookier version of Anil Kapoor. Sikander Kher gets some good moments as Zoya’s brother — he’s the conscience-keeper but he’s not a bore. Abhilash Chaudhary and Gandharv Dewan are a riot as superstitious cricketers who need to be taught to believe in themselves (while also believing that the Zoya factor is an actual thing). And Dulquer sells every second of his screen time, especially the scenes drawn from Notting Hill (when Julia Roberts visits Hugh Grant’s house) and Jerry Maguire (where Tom Cruise admits that it all feels incomplete without Renee Zellweger). His big captain’s speech isn’t exactly a rouser, but it fits this film’s modest ambitions. And it plays far better than the similar “remember why you got into this profession” stretch from Mission Mangal, which felt like they were all lighting incense sticks and doing something divine. Here, it’s just about a bat and a ball.

But Sonam Kapoor keeps bringing the film down. She works best in a simple mode, without makeup, and with a girl-next-door weightlessness. But the more she dresses up, the more she “acts”. She is unable to put across the klutzy affectlessness Nikhil is drawn to (and we hope to be drawn to). The character seems to be from a very different, more high-pitched movie — and it’s jarring after a point. I kept thinking about Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. I wrote, “She’s charming when she’s not trying too hard. But she comes unstuck in the emotional scenes…” But the scenes, here, aren’t even that emotional, and she still comes unstuck. Could she be one of those actors who exhaust their stock in a film or three, and afterwards, all we’re left with is the shtick?

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi