Director: Abhishek Sharma
Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Dulquer Salmaan, Sanjay Kapoor
Late into The Zoya Factor, the captain of the Indian cricket team, Nikhil Khoda, experiences a rare moment of self-doubt. He, too, has begun to believe that Zoya Solanki, the team’s lucky mascot, might actually be responsible for halting India’s losing streak. All she does is show up. Up until now, he had detested the sense of superstition that she – a girl born the night India won the 1983 World Cup – enabled in a team of hard-boiled male athletes. “People like me depend on hard work and talent to stay afloat,” he tells her. “But look at you; you were born lucky, you just win without doing a thing.” Zoya, of course, feels terribly guilty. This isn’t what she wanted.
This talent v/s luck face-off must read as the turning point of Anuja Chauhan’s novel of the same name. But there’s an ingenious layer of meta-ness to the same scene in the film. Note the actors: Dulquer Salmaan, son of Malayalam superstar Mammootty, and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, daughter of Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor. Two successful industry kids headlining the conflict between talent and luck, acknowledging the other side – a casting masterstroke of sorts. Even the members of Zoya’s family – father (Sanjay Kapoor, brother of Anil Kapoor) and brother (Sikandar Kher, son of Kirron Kher) – inform the film’s cheeky self-awareness. Not to mention the title, which invokes the name of perhaps Hindi cinema’s finest mainstream director today: also the daughter of Javed Akhtar. All of them, fine artists in their own right, heighten the theme of the film.
The characters seem to be straight out of director Abhishek Sharma’s spoofy Tere Bin Laden franchise, but the narrative is one that merits a deeper examination of a culture prone to the silliness of sorcery
Unfortunately, the rest of The Zoya Factor isn’t half as clever. It reaches a stage where the meta-ness morphs into irony. If anything, Sonam’s performance as the ditzy rom-com goddess is so laboured and devoid of underdog charm that not even all the luck in the world (Dulquer’s shocking handsomeness, a Shah Rukh Khan voiceover, a Tendulkar doppelganger) can convince us of the book’s sports-weds-entertainment breeziness. She plays the kind of fashionably messy protagonist who breaks the fourth wall to share her snark, but the camera is far from comfortable with her gaze. The only way she can be the girl next door is if the house next door were a mansion with a walk-in wardrobe. Aisha did it right.
As easy as it is to pin everything on the actress’ anti-Julia-Roberts-ness, a (stuffed) lion’s share of the blame must lie with director Abhishek Sharma. He turns The Zoya Factor into a tonal holocaust of sorts – the characters seem to be straight out of his spoofy Tere Bin Laden franchise, but the narrative is one that merits a deeper examination of a culture prone to the silliness of sorcery. If cricket is a religion in India, superstition is its mode of worship. The odd crease shuffles, the no-moving-in-dressing-room mandate in crunch situations, the red handkerchief, the stubborn kit habits: Fortune often favours the grave in a game full of astrological anecdotes.
Sonam Kapoor’s performance as the ditzy rom-com goddess is so laboured and devoid of underdog charm that not even all the luck in the world (Dulquer’s shocking handsomeness, a Shah Rukh Khan voiceover, a Tendulkar doppelganger) can convince us of the book’s sports-weds-entertainment breeziness
Yet, Sharma strangely focuses on parodying this concept – the horribly simulated cricket matches, the tacky ad films within the film (The Last Supper riff is admittedly smart), the comedy-circus-style commentary – instead of humanizing it. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want viewers to take this message too seriously, lest we genuinely start believing in the merits of discipline over divinity. As a result, the fruity rom-com-ness feels like a forced afterthought to lend the writing a definitive genre. There might have been more romance in the image of real-looking players in sweaty environments struggling to overcome their skepticism about this lady’s astrological gift. The yin-meets-yan template rarely fails in a country so notoriously cagey about the language of hope.
The origins of The Zoya Factor can be found in the 1994 sports comedy, Angels in the Outfield – in which a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an orphan who becomes the lucky mascot of a down-and-out baseball team once he convinces the coach (Danny Glover) of his power to see angels aiding specific players on the field. The climax, where talent trumps luck, is almost identical. This lovely little film thrived on the wryness of desperate adults embracing a child’s psychology. Of men reluctantly coming to terms with the boyishness of winning. The magic lies in the natural doing an awkward fistbump with the shy supernatural. But Sharma’s movie feels overtly supernatural to begin with. There’s wonderment weaved into its form. How else does one explain the ability of ‘Captain Cool’ Khoda – a player visibly modelled on India’s most famous finisher – to bat at a strike-rate of over 60 in the middle overs?