Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Sonam Kapoor, Angad Bedi, Manu Rishi, Sanjay Kapoor, Sikander Kher
Director: Abhishek Sharma
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the irony that The Zoya Factor, which makes a case for the merits of hard work over sheer good luck, features Sonam Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, and Sikander Kher in key roles.
Okay, snide potshot out of the way, this is a film that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it truly is – a silly, inoffensive romantic comedy, with an emphasis on silly. Sonam plays, for the nth time, the sort of ditzy, klutzy young woman who babbles like a second-grader and does dumb things that are meant to be cute. Her character Zoya Solanki is the sort of person who shows up for an important work meeting with her tongue numb from a visit to the dentist. You get my point.
Based on Anuja Chauhan’s 2008 bestseller about the push and pull of a freshly blossoming romance between an advertising rookie and a charming cricketer, the film’s plot kicks into gear after Zoya is packed off to Sri Lanka to shoot a campaign with the Indian cricket team, where she enters the orbit of skipper Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan).
To be fair the film’s first hour is breezy even if the scenarios are highly improbable. Nikhil is a firm believer in the rigour of sport, and the dint of hard work. Zoya, who was born on the day that India won its first World Cup back in 1983, appears to be lucky for any team that she sits down for breakfast with. When the Indian team snaps out of its losing streak, she’s quickly anointed their lucky charm, much to Nikhil’s dismay.
It’s an interesting premise but the writing is never as surefooted as it needs to be. Sonam knows how to play the loveable ditz and she slips easily into the role of Zoya. But it’s hard to buy into the film’s flimsy conflict when, frankly, it could easily be resolved over a simple chat. Dulquer has a magnetic presence. Both in the film’s dramatic scenes and in the bits where he’s clearly falling for Zoya, it’s hard to take your eyes off him. It’s a charming, fully realised performance and easily the film’s biggest strength.
Directed by Tere Bin Laden’s Abhishek Sharma, the film’s big problem isn’t the silliness – frankly, it disarms you into laughing along with its pedestrian jokes. It’s that no other character is even remotely interesting and that so much of what goes on feels so contrived. Sanjay Kapoor and Sikander Kher as Zoya’s dad and brother, respectively, show up routinely but have little impact on the plot. Angad Bedi is nicely cast as Nikhil’s jealous, plotting teammate; Manu Rishi as a shady cricket official; and the actors playing some of the other superstitious teammates. But they’re all in service of a script that seldom rises above its clichés.
I didn’t hate The Zoya Factor, and it’s not an unwatchable film by any measure. But it squanders the opportunity to say something about the world we live in, and our reliance on luck as both a crutch and an excuse. The film comes to life in the lighthearted romantic portions between Zoya and Nikhil. I could’ve watched those two for longer, if they’d only shaved off the contrivances.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five. Sure it takes flight, but it never soars.