It’s not easy being an actor who breaks the fourth wall, making us privy to the character’s dirtiest secrets. It’s a device that allows the director to wink at us… something we’ve witnessed from House of Cards to Fleabag. We’re allowed to see the messy layers in the character, without judgement. Abhishek Sharma’s The Zoya Factor, an adaptation of Anuja Chauhan’s bestselling novel of the same name, employs this trope but his protagonist is literally *always* the opposite of interesting. She drones on and on about her problems, never asking herself once if the audience wants to listen.
A 20-something copywriter, Zoya Solanki (played by Sonam Kapoor) lives in a house that, going by the sheer number of fairylights in it, could have doubled as a hipster Delhi cafe. Born on the day India won its World Cup in 1983, she’s hailed by her father (Sanjay Kapoor) as a ‘lucky charm’. She is made to eat with the family before every cricket match, for ‘lady luck’ purposes. The silly home ritual eventually proves ‘lucky’ for the Indian national cricket team as well when Zoya joins them for an ad shoot.
The team, which is on a losing streak for the last few months, wins consecutive matches under the most bizarre circumstances after Zoya eats breakfast with them. Bails don’t fall in spite of the ball hitting the stumps, catches are comically missed, mis-hits fly over the boundary – and apparently it’s all happening because of the ‘Zoya factor’. Something that prompts the BCCI to name her as the team’s lucky mascot during the World Cup.
Sonam Kapoor is seen trying really hard to do an impression of Hollywood’s awkward leading lady (modelled on early 2000s Anne Hathway), who whines about everything in life. “My love life suxx, my job suxx,” she tells a celebrity, who she’s meeting for the first time, during an elevator ride. The celebrity is none other than the Indian captain, Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan with Virat Kohli’s abs). His vocabulary is shaped by gym posters: Discipline, Practice, Team-Work and Motivation. He resents all the chatter around Zoya bringing luck to his team. And yet purely by bad rom-com logic, he also falls for her. He makes pasta, they fall in love.
The main conflict — will Zoya’s “miracles” make Nikhil second-guess his approach towards sport/life — should have been interesting to watch. Too bad director Abhishek Sharma pays more attention to brand placement (Cadbury, Pepsi, Nerolac…) and riffing his characters on the current members of the Indian team (for eg: an opening batsman who slaps his thigh a la Shikhar Dhawan).
For a film that cheers on the national ‘ailment’, cricket, it is painfully noobish while depicting the sport. A day before his match against New Zealand, Nikhil can be heard saying something to the effect of, “inke batsmen toh 4s aur 6s ke neeche baat hi nahi karte (their batsmen don’t hit below 4s and 6s)“. It’s a terribly silly thing for a professional cricketer to say, even in a faux Hindi film-cricket world.
The opponents the Indian cricket team plays are never beyond the subcontinent, and their batsmen do nothing but hit sixes. There are some tiny clerical errors too, like where a batsman hits a six and the scoreboard doesn’t move. The film touches upon the sport’s tryst with superstition, and stops just slightly short of showing professional cricketers as buffoons.
The supporting parts in this inane film are mostly forgettable. Angad Bedi, who made a meal of his small role in Soorma, is reduced to a type. Both Manu Rishi and Sikander Kher are fabulously reined-in for a film as loud as this. Producer/actor/daddy Anil Kapoor shows up in a cameo that never really lands. Koel Purie, as Zoya’s boss at the ad agency, isn’t necessarily the fear-inducing devil a la Meryl Streep. Add all this to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s insipid music, and the sum total is blah.
The Zoya Factor might just be another way to spend two hours staring at a blank wall, because it leaves you with no insight whatsoever. Either on cricket, or even the phenomenon of serendipity. The love story is too saccharine, even in the age of Netflix rom-coms. If a Netflix rom-com (even at its most formulaic) is the equivalent of a hug on a Sunday afternoon, The Zoya Factor is just… there. Dulquer Salmaan has the ‘romantic hero’ vibe in short bursts, but Sonam Kapoor never rises above being a lost cause of nepotism.