The Zoya Factor review: Better quit cricket than embrace this silly lucky charm

In the garb of fiction, Sonam K Ahuja, director Abhishek Sharma reduce Indian cricket to a joke

Rating: 1.5 /5

By Mayur Lookhar

The Zoya Factor (2019)

Talent is essential but you need the rub of the green to go your way too. To ring in the luck, sportsmen would take to a certain superstition. The great tennis player Bjorn Borg sported a beard before every Wimbledon.   Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar always wore the left pad before the right. Former cricket umpire the late David Shepherd of England hopped each time to ward off the Curse of Nelson. 

Individual superstitions are fine but sometimes, sportsmen/team feel a certain person can be a lucky charm. Remember, how during the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup final, Tendulkar told fellow mate Virender Sehwag to not move from his position in the stands as no wicket fell while Sehwag seated in that position?

Director Abhishek Sharma’s The Zoya Factor is riding on one such external superstition.  No, it doesn’t involve a cricketer, but an ordinary woman, Zoya Singh Solanki [Sonam Kapoor] who is deemed as the lucky charm for team India.  Zoya was born on the same day [25 June] when India lifted its first limited overs international World Cup in 1983.   At first, the current Indian team members laugh it off, but when Zoya’s presence during a pre-World Cup tournament turns the tide for a few players, they genuinely believe that Zoya could be their lucky charm.

When word spreads out, Zoya is offered a contract by the Indian cricket board to be their lucky mascot for the upcoming cricket World Cup.  Zoya’s father Vijayendra Solanki [Sanjay Kapoor] and brother Zoravar [Sikander Kher] are cricket buffs but surprisingly, they don’t take this lucky charm thing seriously.

As bizarre as It may sound, but this was a story penned by author Anuja Chauhan in her book The Zoya Factor (2008). This writer hasn’t read the book, but a basic google search showed that Chauhan’s book covered the 10 cricket World Cup.  Interestingly, the 10 Cricket World was only held three years later.

Abhishek Sharma’s film doesn’t mention the year or the edition, the but the order of India’s matches strongly suggests it is loosely based on the 2011 tournament that India won at home.

In the world of literary fiction, Chauhan was well within her rights to conceive such an idea. And perhaps, it was saleable too, but how does her story play out on the silver screen?

Having not read the book, we can’t make comparison between the book and the film.  However, based on this cinematic representation, it doesn’t speak much volumes of Chauhan’s novel.

Sharma has made successful comedies likes Tere Bin Laden (2010) and The Shaukeens (2014).  But The Zoya Factor stinks of poor writing, screenplay and pain staking performances.

The prime guilty person is Sonam K Ahuja who unfortunately comes across as an imbecile.  Zoya may be a junior copy writer but Sharma shows her as this dim wit person.  Her aloofness makes her a total misfit for her job.  She invariably ends doing things which she is warned against.  Shockingly, she carries crackers to Colombo. You wonder how did the airport security at India and Sri Lanka allowed the woman to carry these explosives?

Albeit fiction, but to think that such a naive person is entrusted to do an ad shoot with Indian cricket team in Colombo, belies wisdom.  But then her boss Monita/Monyata (Koel Purie) – eh whatever  – is keen to see her flounder so that she can fire Zoya. Purie is equally annoying as Zoya.  

All through the 136 minute drama, Sonam’s childish demeanour, annoying expressions tests your patience. She once did a film called Bewakoofiyan (2014), but poor Sonam is made to look like the ultimate bewakoof (fool) here.  

However, Zoya isn’t the only fool here. She has members from the Indian cricket team to give her company.  Couple of them display certain idiosyncrasies associated with popular Indian cricketers – Shikhar Dhawan, Ishant Sharma. What the director and the creatives forgot is that neither Dhawan nor Ishant Sharma were part of the 2011 World Cup squad.  

Barring the captain Nikhil Khoda [Dulquer Salmaan], all other members of the Indian cricket team are represented poorly.

Khoda’s team has a black sheep in former captain Robin Rawal [Angad Bedi] who holds a grudge against his skipper.  Angad’s father, the legendary Indian cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi was recently criticised by former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir for trying to push his undeserving son in the Delhi team in the early 2000s.   We don’t know the truth behind this allegation, but based on his show in The Zoya Factor, Angad Bedi certainly is undeserving to play an Indian cricketer. 

Yes, there’s corruption in cricket, but why would any player deliberately underperform in a world cup final just to embarrass his skipper. Come on, the stakes are too high. Underperform deliberately in such a big game and risk yourself of being lynched by the fanatics.

It’s just not Indian cricketers, but the film will not please the Board of Control For Cricket in India [BCCI] a wee bit.  In Abhishek Sharma’s film, the president of the Indian cricket board is Jodhpal [Manu Rishi Chadha], who also happens to be the uncle of Robin Rawal.  He’s probably got the top job on the back of politics and power play.  He’s unpolished and comes across as a rustic Delhiite/Haryanvi character but one who does have a wry sense of humour. The last time such a character held the top job in BCCI was Haryana’s Ranbir Singh Mahendra.  The Congress minister had beaten favourite Sharad Pawar in a contentious presidential election, before Pawar won the re-election few months later).

While it’s perfectly acceptable for a few cricketers to cling to superstition, but to think that the president of the most powerful and richest cricket board would support such superstition is baffling.  The board president offers a contract to Zoya to travel with the Indian team during the world cup.  For heaven’s sake, this is a world cup and not a local tournament.  Aren’t you making a mockery of the Indian team and Indian cricket in general?

While the character is far fetched, Manu Rishi Chadha plays it finely. Behind the jovial face, lies a scheming mind.  It’s admirable how Jodhpal gently issues a threat to Zoya. The jovial look, wry smile on Chadha’s face is amusing.

Silly players, silly cricket board but the worst of the lot is the pathetic Hindi cricket commentary.  The tone, the language, the puns are simply pedestrian. One of the commentators [just audio] mentions the popular Katappa ne Bahubali  ko kyun maara? [Why did Katappa kill Bahubali?] joke on air.  The screenwriters clearly lost sight of the fact that Bahubali only came into being in 2015, four years after India won the world cup.  There was a world cup in 2015 but in Australia and won by Australia.  Sharma’s film appears to be based around the 2011 home triumph.  Clearly screenwriters Pradhuman Singh and Neha Rakesh Sharma haven’t followed their cricket nor Bahubali.

Much of the blame lies on the shoulder of Neha Rakesh Sharma and Singh.  They’ve failed to adapt the book into a sensible, believable screenplay. Their rushed writing, poorly sketched characters combine to make for a nagging screenplay. Singh cops the blame for the dull dialogues too.  

One can’t help but feel sorry for the hugely gifted Dulquer Salmaan.  The Malayalee actor has shone in southern films and was impressive in his Hindi debut Karwaan (2018) too.  What made him choose this dour script? All that’s in hindsight now. 

Salmaan is perhaps the only actor to bring some sort of sanity to the proceedings.  A firm believer in practice, Khoda doesn’t approve of the Zoya factor but is forced by the board to fall in line.  The poorly scripted romance with Zoya plays out like a farce.    Salmaan’s attractive looks and his soothing baritone though can’t save this film.

The music is not pleasant too and lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya has produced his worst song – Pepsi Ki Kasam.

What ought to be appreciated is that unlike the real, this film celebrates the presence of a woman around cricketers.  Actress Anushka Sharma has been unfairly trolled whenever her presence has coincided with a loss for Indian cricket team and failure of her husband Virat Kohli – the Indian captain.

While it is not a sports film, but the least the producer and Abhishek Sharma could have done is bring some sense of authenticity to the cricket matches. The action on the field is cringe worthy more akin to watching kids hold cricket bats/balls for the first time in their lives.

A terrible showing on and off the field.  Any aspiring young cricketer who mistakenly watches this film would contemplate quitting cricket than embrace this silly lucky charm.

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