The Zoya Factor


Just finished re-reading the excellent chick-lit “The Zoya Factor“. For the record, I have no major qualms about using the word (phrase?) ‘chick-lit’ to describe the broad genre of easy-breezy reads involving contemporary-to-the-times characters, a female protagonist – a usually ditsy and often extremely insecure female protagonist – dealing with relationship issues, presented to the reader with situational, self-directed humor, and involving a happy ending. I wish we could come up with a slightly less condescending name, but I can live with ‘chick-lit’ because it captures the spirit of the books themselves – irreverent, playful, self-deprecating. It’s the covers of these chick-lits – uniformly involving red stilettos, ‘cartoon’ drawings on the cover, primary/pastel colors – that usually get my goat. And the utterly boring, predictable plots that some of them have – seriously, even if it is ‘chick-lit’, you still need to put in *some* work, Ms./Mr.Author!! Oh, and yes, the irritating stupidity of the heroines, who just can’t seem to handle the fact that they have actual brain cells in their heads.

But The Zoya Factor is not irritating. The Zoya Factor is not thoughtless. For the most. And Zoya, the protagonist, is sily, but not teeth-grinding-inducingly stupid. I love that it is set in the familiar world (for me) of advertising/marketing. I love that it involves a seriously ambitious love interest – it doesn’t get bigger than the captain of the Indian cricket team. Oh, and did I say the humor is spot-on?

I’m not going to review this one thoroughly, because there isn’t much to review – it’s a pretty straightforward story that makes fun of ‘India shining’ while also being reclaiming ‘India shining’ for itself, in the whole Luck-by-Chance/Om-Shanti-Om style. Anuja Chauhan, the author (who’s from my college!! WHEEE!!!), doesn’t waste too much space setting context or even background for Nikhil Khoda, and with good reason. Her secondary characters are excellent, the love story holds your interest, the conflict could’ve been better – it is contrived in places, but not terribly irritating, so I’ll let that go. And the romantic pay-offs are superb.

Oh, and Nikhil Khoda has to be the dishiest romantic hero EVER. Really. He’s in Rhett Butler/Mr.Darcy league. That is all.

Anuja does the cricket well, though I do wish she’d spent just a little more time, but that’s a personal preference. Of course, she does the cricket-and-advertising pitch perfectly (see what I did there?), she does cricket-as-national-religion and cricketers-under-pressure pretty well. She’s also incorporated the whole Greg Chappell-Saurav Ganguly-Jagmohan Dalmiya fiasco, leaked email and all. Unfortunately (for me), she takes Chappell’s side very, very unambiguously, and makes Ganguly and Dalmiya look like buffoons. During the controversy, I’d felt – along with most Indians – that the Australian-import Chappell was being totally unfair to Ganguly, so here I will need to disagree with Chauhan. But of course, she probably has loads of better information. Maybe the former Indian captain was a shoe-stealer and weight-thrower during her Pepsi shoots? And this was her way of getting the perfect revenge? And maybe Red Chillies optioned for movie rights *after* Ganguly was out of KKR? Huh? Huh?

Because the script hews closely to actual current events, it’s fun to play guess-who. Khoda is Dhoni, despite the author’s protests. Sorry, but I just.do.not.see a ‘younger, unspoilt Rahul Dravid’ there. If anything, I can see a bit of Ganguly in the arrogance. Of course, Khoda is too metrosexual, dripping sophistication, compared to M S Dhoni’s earthy-cool. But the records are similar, and there’s just too many parallels.

Harry/Hairy is very likely a mix of Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh (‘cut surd’, juvenile antics, aggressive on-field, etc.). Zaheer Pathan is, of course, Irfan Pathan, who was looking really good in 2005-6 when she was likely writing the book. Soon after, his luck turned south: but he’s been immortalized in the book, good for him! I’m guessing the others: Monita-Rinku-Chachi-Zoravar-Papa-etc are from Chauhan’s family/friends/acquaintances circle.

And now that the movie is being made, these are my picks for casting choices:

Zoya Singh Solanki:

  1. Preity Zinta, 10 years ago, would be my top pick. And if Aamir Khan can play a 17-year old in 3 idiots, why can’t Preity Zinta play a 27-year old lead? I would totally cast her. With crazy curly hair, of course.
  2. Amrita Puri. She could do the ditzy stuff well, and of course be Karol-Bagh-Solanki to the tee. And I *think* she could pull off the advertising executive work – but that needs to be seen.
  3. Konkana Sen Sharma. I can see her do both the ad-exec and the Karol-Bagh thing well. But she’s probably a bit too self-possessed to do the ditzy stuff. Well, she’s an actor, who knows. But this would be an interesting choice.
  4. Anushka Sharma. But I’m so, so tired of her being the Punju babe.
  5. Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, etc. – too urbane. But who knows, maybe they can pull off this role.

Nikhil Khoda – oh you dreamy, dreamy man.

  1. Farhan Akhtar. Top pick, hands down. Looks like a sportsman. Can totally do the intense, brooding “leader of men” thing. And looks dishy, oh, so dishy (forgive me, I just re-watched Luck by Chance recently!). Can do the romantic/angry/sexy scenes SO WELL. And is probably one of the three ONLY actors in Bollywood who can say ‘musical soiree’ and ‘pyromaniac’ without sounding like he had to practice in front of his bathroom mirror for days (the other two being, maybe, Abhay Deol and Shah Rukh Khan).
  2. John Abraham. Needs to stand up straighter to pull off the sportsman thing. And has been playing too many wing-man roles for me to be able to picture him as Alpha Male quite as well. But he does have potential.
  3. Siddharth (the guy in Rang De Basanti). Intense, brooking, blah, blah blah. Also, looks a lot like a younger Dhoni, but pseud-er, which is what we’re looking for. I just can’t picture him being masterful enough, but you could probably compensate with camera angles or background score or something.
  4. Imran Khan. In a pinch. Can’t act for nuts – yet. Especially not the angry/intense scenes. But he looks the part.
  5. Ranbir Kapoor – NO NO NO. He’s over-exposed, and a real-life d*ck. He’ll totally make the movie about himself, instead of supporting the woman lead. Doesn’t look the part ONE bit (dark, sportsman, intense, etc.). Can act all right, but is – and looks – too entitled to be a hungry-to-prove-himself-rookie-Indian-skipper. I only added him to the list because there’re rumors doing the rounds that he’s playing Khoda. Please, SRK, NO!! Don’t destroy Nikhil Khoda for me!
  6. Hrithik Roshan – Not really. Too old, for one. And too, too good looking. But he has magic, and can probably pull off the role better than others who’re more suited for it.

So that’s my take. Can’t wait for the movie, especially since Reema Kagti is supposed to be working on the screenplay (SQUEEEEEE!!!!).

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