Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Dulquer Salmaan, Angad Bedi, Sikander Kher, Sanjay Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Rahul Khanna
Director: Abhishek Sharma
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
Is well begun half done? Not so in the case of The Zoya Factor, an uneven page-to-screen exercise. The film's first half is breezy and mirth-filled enough to prevent its many missteps from coming in the way of an entertaining hour or so. But post-interval, it is quite another story. The pockmarks that riddle the screenplay (Neha Sharma, Pradhuman Singh and Anuja Chauhan) become all too obvious and drag the film down. Not that there aren't any redeeming qualities here - the craftsmanship on show is near-perfect and the film's feel-good factor isn't entirely insubstantial.
In a role tailormade for her, Sonam Kapoor exudes infectious enthusiasm and loses no opportunity to hit the ball out of the park. But the persona of a gauche middle-class advertising industry professional desperate for a breakthrough in life and love cannot propel this rom-com fantasy beyond a point. And that point is the halfway mark - the "innings break" - after which it all goes pretty wayward and wobbly.
The second half is disappointingly low on zing. The writing is uninspired. It lacks any sort of pace or swing that could lift the film out of the morass. It settles into an exasperatingly mechanical rhythm as it goes through the motions of a series of on-field sequences involving the Indian cricket squad in the midst of a tussle between the sprightly female protagonist who emerges as the team's fortune-altering talisman and the stolid skipper Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan), who has no patience for lucky charms and repeatedly insists that self-belief is all that he needs.
The well-aimed toe-crushers that The Zoya Factor delivers in its early stages via the overworked and confused heroine's delightful sense of self-deprecating humour - some of which stems from the woman turning to the camera and letting the audience into the muddle in her mind - gives way to rank long hops. The subsequent drama built around a rivalry between the captain and a team member and juxtaposed with the camaraderie among the rest of the boys even as pressure mounts on them to deliver is laboured and dreary.
The Zoya Factor, directed by Abhishek Sharma (Tere Bin Laden, Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran), is a story of a now-on, now-off love affair. It revolves around cricket without capturing the excitement of a sporting encounter that goes down to the wire. It dares not to take the game seriously. That wouldn't have been a bad thing at all had the film gone the whole hog with its spirit of irreverence.
Right at the outset, a voiceover by Shah Rukh Khan dismisses cricket as a disease as bad as "dengue and malaria". Halfway through, somebody describes the game as "a circus". By the time the film is ready wind up, the heroine rues the fact that "sab kuch mazaaq bann gaya hai (everything has been reduced to a joke)".
Exactly our point. While the intention of the film, like that of the Anuja Chauhan novel that it's been adapted from, is to poke fun at India's obsession with the gentleman's game and the nation's tendency to embrace blind irrationality in pursuit of success, it peters out well before the crucial climactic slog overs. Despite being fed what has the looks of a juicy half-volley crying out to be hoisted over the boundary ropes, the film is unable to take full toll. To put it in cricketing terms, The Zoya Factor plays out too many dot balls, which undermine a plot that seeks to blend the comedic and the solemn. The coalescence is tenuous at best.
The film's heroine, Zoya Solanki, was born on the day India won its first cricket World Cup. She is, therefore, seen as a lucky omen by her retired army officer-father (Sanjay Kapoor) and brother (Sikander Kher). First it is just gully cricket. But soon enough, she is hailed as a lucky charm for Team India after she has breakfast with the boys and the team goes on to win after a series of losses.
The cricket board offers her a formal contract to accompany the team, have breakfast with the players every match day morning and cheer them from the VIP box when they are out in the middle. She turns down the idea to begin with, but her growing infatuation with Nikhil is incentive enough for to change her mind and take the plunge. Nikhil reciprocates and the dalliance quickly turns into a full-blown relationship.
Zoya's presence among the boys aggravates the rivalry between Nikhil and Robin Rawal (Angad Bedi), a nephew of the cricket board chief (Manu Rishi), and threatens to derail India's World Cup campaign at crucial junctures. To boot she is turned into a goddess with the power of pulling off miracles.
All the hokey pokey is pretty harmless until a point, but much of it turns into avoidable hocus pocus as the love story meanders through ups and downs that mirror the politics within the team. It is not clear if the film is actually alluding to any real-life situation through the bad blood in the dressing room but at least one of the cricketers, Shivi (Abhilash Chaudhary), is modelled on a real-life personality, Shikhar Dhawan, complete with a twirled moustache, tattoos and recognizable on-field mannerisms.
The actor does a good job of it but the rest of the Indian team players, except for the one played by Gandharv Dewan, who has blind faith of prophecies and believes everything that Zoya brings to the table, do not make any impact. The focus of the film is squarely on Dulquer Salmaan and Angad Bedi. Despite being characteristically suave and charming, the former never seems the right fit for the role. Bedi has a far more athletic screen presence and looks every inch the part of a cricketer. He makes the most of the chances that the script offers him.
The film's funnier passages are principally thanks to Sonam Kapoor, who takes to the role of an overworked junior copywriter like a fish to water and mines the situations that she is thrown and the lines that she delivers to great effect. As the character says, her love life sucks and her professional life sucks even more. But the girl refuses to give up on life even as it throws lemons at her.
Oscillating between bafflement and assertion, the actress presents a portrait of an endearing dreamer who lucks out when a breakfast she has with the Indian cricket team ahead of a World Cup ends its losing streak and skipper's run of bad luck.
The Zoya Factor could have been a thoroughly enjoyable comedy. It ends up being a scrappy, erratic knock where a few crisp strokes are hopelessly outnumbered by a host of ungainly heave-hos. The film does not hit the sweet spot often enough to translate into either a truly rousing cricket film or a memorably moving love story.