Happy Birthday Sonam! A Review of Your Most Recent Perfectly Pleasant Movie, The Zoya Factor

I thought about posting a review of one of her really really good movies, like Ek Ladki or Neerja, but everyone reviews those. Let’s look at the forgotten pleasant films!

Sorry sorry sorry, I missed the first 10 minutes! I am almost positive that there was no SRK physical cameo in the opening, but there was definitely a voice over and now I can’t report back on it. The voice over came back at the end, and it was fine. If you are desperate for any SRK fix, this is an option. But more importantly, you should watch it just because it is a pleasant well-made movie. In fact, I suspect Shahrukh agreed to the voice over because he also believes this to be a pleasant well-made movie.

Image result for the zoya factor poster

Here’s a surprise. Going into this, knowing the one sentence plot description (Captain of the Indian cricket team and the average girl who becomes the teams lucky charm fall in love), I assumed it would be a “they fight and then they fall in love” kind of story. But it’s not that, instead it is a “they fall in love like normal people do with ups and downs and talking” kind of story. Isn’t that refreshing? A bit of a problem because it means Sonam struggling with more dialogue than she needs, but still worth it because it breaks down the usual dynamic of mistakes and misunderstandings and self-doubt that keep the hero and heroine apart for increasingly unbelievable reasons until they FINALLY admit their feelings in the last scene.

Also better than expected was how the cricket part of the plot was handled. The last third of the film is about the ridiculousness of our heroine’s life once she is thrown into the Cricket world. Crazy fans, silly ad campaigns, and this intoxicating power and popularity all mixed together. The film goes all in with some fun little bits and pieces and really great visuals.

It’s really the first third where there is the biggest problem. When we are getting to know everyone and Dulquer and Sonam are doing their initial flirting, plus the “lucky charm” idea is first introduced, it feels a bit arduous, like “when do we get past this and to the good bits?” Then all the plots hit into gear and start clicking along, the romance feels more special, the Cricket bits get fun, and it’s all just stupid entertaining. And heck, that’s what most romances are like, right? You need to know the hero and heroine separately so you can better appreciate them together, but at the same time it feels like you are just marking time until the hero and heroine meet and the plot actual starts.This is a great getting to know the hero and heroine song, I wish they were all this good!

The very very best rom-coms manage to make you care about the hero and heroine even before the plot starts, but that’s a high standard. This film does it’s best by loading the cast with fun supporting actors. Also, HOT supporting actors! Gotta love a movie aimed at the female audience. Is Dulquer to short and southern for you? No worries! Have an Angad Bedi and a Sikander Kher. Too young? Here’s Sanjay Kapoor being a supportive loving single parent! Or if you like Dulquer just fine by himself, check out him smiling, flirting, giving sincere speeches, and just generally being almost-but-not-quite-perfect, because perfect is boring.

Sonam is the weakest link in the film. But she still isn’t the worst possible option. For one thing, her look is right. Sonam looks like a pretty normal girl, not someone where you think “how are people not stopping and starring every time she walks by?” Anushka would have been another good choice, or Taapsee. Pretty enough to be confident in herself and believably attractive at first glance, but not so beautiful that it seems like it would be the first thing people would notive. And so long as we are talking about Sonam’s appearance, she seems curvier in this than in her previous films. But she is very VERY good at dressing herself, and so it doesn’t matter at all. I only noticed it briefly in one shot in one outfit and then I saw it because I was looking for it, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed. Dressing yourself well is an important skill for a public figure, especially a woman, and I think it’s kind of lazy when actresses are cast for being a certain body type or face instead of folks realizing you can make them look however they need to look with clothes alone. That’s another point in Sonam’s favor, she is able to let her clothes do the talking for her in her performances. Combine the clothes and her look and a pretty good character match to her natural personality, and we have one of the stronger Sonam roles.

Dulquer is far better in this than his other non-Malayalam roles that I have seen. He is relaxed, he is charming, he is confident. He still struggles a bit with Hindi, a lot of significant dialogue is in English. I suppose that could also be because it is based on an English language novel, or just that this class of people would legitimately speak “Hinglish”, but it kept distracting me. And Dulquer doesn’t really bring his a-game. I know he is capable of doing more than “and now I smile charmingly, and now I wrinkle my brows in boyish confusion” kind of performance. It’s not required for the role, or the film, but he could still be better. I don’t think this is going to be what rockets him to Hindi stardom.

The songs aren’t remarkable, neither are the lead performances, the general camerawork and visuals are workmanlike but not astounding, the plot is mostly predictable, it’s all a solid but not top level movie. But, again, if you like rom-coms, you will enjoy it. And there is that Shahrukh voice over. Weigh your options, if you want 2 hours of pleasant fluff with a happy ending, you should go see it.

(one small bit of film history and connection I want to mention. Shammi’s “Junglee” song complete with “yahoo” is referred to many times. Which is mostly a nod to Shammiji. But it’s also a little tip of the hat across the generations from Sonam’s family to Shammi’s. Shammi’s wife Geeta Bali is the one who gave the Sonam’s grandfather his start in the industry, early on his films used to have a placard thanking her. And now 54 years after Geeta died, her generosity is still remembered by the granddaughter of someone she helped. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence. But I like my version)

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Whole plot in one paragraph:

Sonam is a lackey at an advertising agency, sent on a shoot in Sri Lanka for a Pepsi ad with the Indian Cricket Tea. She is clumsy and awkward and Dulquer, the captain of the team, is amused and charmed by her. He invites her to eat breakfast with the team and she casually says that she was good luck for her brother when she ate breakfast with him before his matches. The team wins the next match and credits her luck. Angad Bedi is the jealous former captain of the team, he encourages the idea that it is her luck rather than Dulquer’s leadership which is helping them. Dulquer asks Sonam on a date, and then backs off when he starts hearing the “luck” stories. But feels bad and tracks her down at her father’s house back in Delhi and they start dating, falling in love very very fast and joyfully. The cricket commission offers Sonam a job being the “lucky mascot” for the team, she decides to turn it down. But Angad finds a work around by insisting she work on his ad campaign with her agency, she still travels with the team. Dulquer and Sonam are more and more in love, the team is sneaking around trying to get luck from her. And then Angad decides to break them up and gives Sonam video (as suggested by a female reporter) of Dulquer first hearing the “luck” rumors and having a conversation about maybe getting rid of Sonam by romancing her into turning down the “lucky mascot” job. Sonam breaks up with him, sure he was only using her, and signs on as the Mascot after all. Her life immediately turns into a circus of press attention and ad campaigns and craziness. She finally realizes the damage she is doing, making the world believe in luck instead of hard work and refuses to go to the final game of the world cup to prove the team can win on their own. Dulquer leads the team to victory (while protesters wait outside Sonam’s house), and afterwards he comes to Sonam’s house and romantically declares his love and they are back together.

This is a particular kind of rom-com heroine which I honestly cannot remember seeing before in Indian film. And I am delighted! Sonam is playing the kind of woman who loves too much, who is “easy”. That’s her flaw, as she sees it and as the world sees it. She isn’t classy, she isn’t good at playing games, she isn’t good at hiding her feelings. Oh, and she has sex. That’s what makes these characters different, really really different. For a woman, sex is a gesture of love and trust and desire and all of that. And it’s also something that says “I love you so much I don’t care what the world will think of my actions”. In Indian film, the standard procedure is that the heroine resists falling in love as much as possible, because even that (just having the emotion) is seen as “wrong” according to society and a betrayal of her role as a good woman. Once she does fall in love, love is a kind of joyless thing. It is about loyalty and suffering and patience and suicide. It’s not about butterflies in the stomach and sweet kisses at night and falling into bed and fireworks. The men get that, the woman pay the price. But in this film, Sonam’s character gets the fireworks too.

When she meets Dulquer, he is attracted by her sincerity and openness and warmth. And just general messy realness. When he asks her out on a date, she can’t conceal her big smile. When he breaks the date, she is upset and reveals that she overcharged her father’s credit card to buy a new dress (revealing both that she cared enough to buy a new dress and that she has to use her father’s card). At the end of their first date, a drive through the city together, she impulsively hugs him and then is embarrassed. For their second date, he reveals he is being followed by paparazzi so she invites him for a dinner in, alone in her house with her family gone. And they joyfully have sex. Again and again and again. Flirting in hallways, stealing kisses, cuddling in hotel bedrooms. There is no guilt, but there is an awareness of…diving into dangerous waters? Dulquer loves her more because this sort of jumping in to bed without calculation or caring about consequences is new for him. And Sonam’s brother is worried about her because he knows she can be hurt if it backfires. But she is happy, the sex is great, the flirtation is great, he makes her happy and makes her feel special, this is the good part of love, why not enjoy it? Of course when it all falls apart, that’s what makes it hurt more. Or, no, hurt different I guess. There’s no regrets, no things left unsaid or undone, but there is that feeling that he only saw her as “easy” not as a person.

There are a lot of rom-coms in India and elsewhere that are about the “simple” “average” girl who attracts the special man. Obvious wish fulfillment angle there. But adding in the “simple” “average” girl who isn’t afraid to fall into bed on the first date is different. That’s saying “don’t feel bad for giving in to what you want, don’t feel bad for trusting your gut, don’t feel less than just because you forget yourself for one moment and stop being a good girl”. Because that’s the “average” thing too, even if most women don’t talk about it. Because in this area, being “average” is somehow all bad.

Now, that’s my favorite part! The happy happy sex all the time being in love euphoria that hits them both, feeling totally in tune because you both just want to be together all the time and kiss and make love and be happy. My second favorite part is how it handles the last section when Sonam’s “luck” becomes public knowledge. Like an average girl, Sonam can’t help enjoying being dressed up and photographed and talked about. She goes into it out of anger at Dulquer, but that doesn’t mean she won’t enjoy it while it is happening. And since she is enjoying it, the film is allowed to be a bit frivolous and silly in this section as well, veering over to the realm of black comedy just a hint with how it makes fun of fans and media.

My least favorite part is how it glances past issues which, in a longer deeper movie, might have been more fully explored. Like, the effect on our heroine of being raised in a mostly male environment (army brat with a dead mother and an older brother). Or why exactly she wants to work in advertising. Or, most of all, an exploration of the non-luck ways she helps the team. The film makes a point to show how she gives a suggestion to Dulquer which he passes on to a bowler while they are dating, and later gives a suggestion directly to another player while she is spending time with the team because she is “lucky”. Both of them are based on knowing and caring about the people involved, not any knowledge of sports but also not any kind of “luck”. I want to know more about that, how she became a person with that kind of understanding of people, and how she could use it in other situations besides being a “lucky charm”. It’s almost related to why Dulquer falls in love with her, that kind of open warm inability to be anyone but herself, but also a little more.

On the other hand, what I greatly enjoy is how the film never fully answers the question of if she is “lucky”, because ultimately the message is that it doesn’t matter. Maybe the team felt more confident because they believed in her. Maybe she really did have some kind of lucky power. Maybe the power grew in her because they believed in her. But no matter what it was, the point is to not believe in luck at all. Luck is chancy and uncertain, hardwork and skill get you what you want in life. And in love, Zoya and Dulquer get together not because she is “lucky” and not because it is fate, but because they both took a leap and went all in, right from the start.

8 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Sonam! A Review of Your Most Recent Perfectly Pleasant Movie, The Zoya Factor

  1. I enjoyed it. It’s just a simple rom com, not great, but I didn’t see anything deeply wrong with it either, except that it was kind of shallow, and should have had some more women. You’re right that the range of men it offers up was great, I appreciated that.

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  2. I am so excited to introduce this movie to my dad this week. So far, he has loved Khoobsoorat, ELKDTAL, and Bareilly ki Barfi so I am going all out and trying Zoya Factor and then Luka Chuppi. I was on a Taapsee kick with him first and now am alternating between Sonam and Kriti, both of whom I adore.

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