Wednesday, June 24, 2015

655, 654: First Impressions: The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan

The Zoya Factor will soon be made into a movie. It's that kind of  book. So, now that we got that out of the way...

Zoya Solanki works in an advertising agency in Delhi. For reasons that are somehow important to the author, we come to know that Zoya is from Karol Bagh. I'm guessing this is to establish that she is not as cool and hep as someone from South Delhi, who would not be blasé about the fame and fortune that would befall her. Her agency is contracted to shoot the Zing! Cola commercial. The commercial stars cricketers and it's the year of the World Cup. Zoya was born the same day as India won the World Cup in 1983. She is also born with some kind of freakish luck that if she attends a match, any match - whether it is mohalla cricket or the semis in Wankhede, the team she supports wins. So, Zoya finds herself through an interesting but simplistic turn of events having breakfast with the Indian cricket team before every match. She travels to Australia with her Rinku chachi and Monita, a colleague, and Monita's little boy, Ayaan. She falls for Nikhil Khoda, the Indian skipper, with 'Boost-brown' eyes. She is idolized by another young bowler, Zahid Khan, and some other bowler called Hairy.

It all goes well for a bit and then things start going awry. A nation that worships cricket with much passion and no sense starts going into a tizzy over the lucky charm. The skipper starts wanting her out of the team breakfasts because until she 'joined the team', so to speak, he had 'snatched defeat from the jaws of victory'. So while he is attracted to this girl, he wants to redeem himself on his own terms without the support of 'luck'.

There's a media circus where the Australian media wants her out because she is giving an unfair advantage to India. There's a political party that wants her to campaign. And there's a freakish agarbatti advertisement.

The book is a quick read. seems to be really replete with trite phrases. There's a game I started mid-way while reading the book - count the number of times 'Boost-brown' eyes and 'strong chest' appeared in the text. I lost count.

But the highpoints are quite a few. I think Chauhan has a keen observation for cities and spaces. There's a portion where she describes the Karol Bagh midnight market really well. Also very good is her description of Famous Studios. While the India-Pakistan match is described pretty well, all the other matches seem to be more of the same. (Like the game, I guess.) The advertising campaigns and associated hilarity are really good. But for me the biggest gap is perhaps what this book could have become. You see glimpses of something dark and delicious when Chauhan skirts with the concept of a woman who has started believing her own myth. Or when she's scorned and moves towards retribution. But much of that gets painted over by more description of 'Boost'-brown eyes and strong chests.

I liked the book, even though it left me wanting. In one of her interviews, Anuja Chauhan had mentioned that she was tired of books about women wanting men. Unfortunately, despite whatever else this book is, it has turned out to be exactly that.


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