There is something so heartbreaking about a near-empty theater. I missed The Zoya Factor because I was traveling so I started my week by catching up. It made me sad to see 15-odd people in the hall but as the film played, I understood why. The Zoya Factor, directed by Abhishek Sharma and based on the bestselling book by Anuja Chauhan, is designed as a sweet, silly, romcom that pivots on the 'luck versus hard work' debate. But it never commits to its own DNA. The are stray flashes of sparkle – I loved the expression on Sonam Kapoor's face when she sees the abs that her object of desire, cricket captain Nikhil Khoda, is packing. And Anil Kapoor's cameo is great fun. But mostly, the film is a humorless slog with surprisingly lame writing – surprising because there are three screenplay writers – Pradhuman Singh Mall, Neha Sharma and Chauhan herself. The character of Zoya is too sketchy and whiny to be likeable and Sonam, channeling Bridget Jones, can't salvage her. So the only way to get through was to focus on Malayalam cinema star Dulquer Salmaan who combines industrial-strength charisma with acting chops. Can someone please offer this man a better script?
I interviewed artists from The Sky Is Pink and Bard of Blood this week. The first is a Hindi film, directed by Shonali Bose and starring Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar. The second is a Netflix show, directed by Ribhu Dasgupta and featuring an ensemble cast that includes Emraan Hashmi, Vineet Kumar Singh, Sobhita Dhulipala, Kirti Kulhari and Jaideep Ahlawat. I'm still to join the ranks of streaming addicts. I think I'm commitment phobic and I always think that I could watch two or three movies in the same time. So I haven't immersed myself enough into the Indian streaming landscape but it's thrilling to see fine actors getting so many opportunities. During the interview, Jaideep and Vineet spoke about the difference in tonality while working on a show that will go to 190 countries. They both said it isn't about loud or subtle acting. It's about being true to the moment and character. At one point, Vineet said emphatically: hum bhavuk log hain. Indeed.
I also chatted about acting and emotion with the TSIP artists. Through her earlier films, Amu and Margarita with a Straw, Shonali has established herself as a tough, uncompromising voice. So it was interesting to me that Variety magazine ran a review of the film (it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival) which called TSIP 'conventionally sentimental.' When I brought that up, Priyanka said that it's on the critic because he didn't 'get it.' It's 'culturally insensitive.' She said, "We are not afraid of it (emotion), you're afraid of it. I think it's on him, on Western culture to understand and be open to different people around the world." I haven't seen the film yet so I can't comment but it makes me wonder if we can create the crossover Indian film (The Lunchbox is perhaps the closest we've come to it) because our tonalities and demands as an audience are so distinctive.
The week ended with chats with Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff and Siddharth Anand about War. The film is a big-budget visual spectacle so I was intrigued to hear that the actors also did workshops and readings. Tiger said that he thinks of himself as a mazdoor rather than a star. Hrithik said that was also his word. War promises the ultimate action star face-off. I can't wait.