Anuja Chauhan COVERSHOT-1568465773944
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Writer Paulo Coelho once said that whenever anyone mentioned to him the possibility of making a film adaptation of his novel, his answer would be, “No, I’m not interested.” He further stated, “I believe that each reader creates his own film inside his head, gives faces to the characters, constructs every scene …. And that’s why whenever a reader goes to see a film based on a novel he likes, he leaves feeling disappointed, saying: ‘the book is so much better than the film.’”

However, the Hindi film industry has shunned the motto and for the past many decades adapted books and short stories, turning them into highly successful films. From ‘Guide’ and ‘Junoon’ to ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Kai Po Che’, the list is long.

The Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Dulquer Salmaan-led ‘The Zoya Factor’ will be another addition. In the news for a long time, the journey from the book (by the same name) to screen actually began even when author Anuja Chauhan had not yet finished writing it.

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From 1993-2010, then New Delhi-based Chauhan worked with J Walter Thompson (earlier known as Hindustan Thompson Associates) — first as a trainee and subsequently becoming its youngest ever creative director and vice president. She worked on the Pepsi campaigns, which superstar Shah Rukh Khan endorsed.

When he got to know she was writing a book, he showed the inclination to make a film about it. Thereafter, his production company Red Chillies Entertainment bought the movie adaptation rights. But nothing happened for three years.

Speaking to Gulf News tabloid! Chauhan, who loves to watch Hindi movies, explained: “Initially, there was confusion about who would direct the film, then the producer Sanjeev Chawla went into a coma and later passed away. So the book gathered dust for a while. But after the three-year option expired in 2013 and producers Pooja Shetty Deora and Aarti Shetty approached me, I requested Shah Rukh, who relinquished the rights.”


‘The Zoya Factor’ was Chauhan’s debut novel and over-written. What triggered this love story was a mix of a highly stressed work atmosphere and cricket-based advertising. She admitted: “I didn’t know when to stop. So, the filmmakers had a tough time cutting it down to a two-hour movie. Different screenwriters did a whole lot of drafts. There was also the confusion of the genre of the book — was it a chick flick, a romcom, a masala entertainer, a satire or a sports film. Getting the balance was tough. But once director Abhishek Sharma came into the picture, things moved at a fast pace. He bought a lot of clarity and dynamism.”

The main characters in the movie are Zoya Singh Solanki (Sonam Kapoor Ahuja) and Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan). Other stars with pivotal roles include: Sanjay Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Raghubir Yadav, Sikander Kher, Angad Bedi and Rahul Khanna. Along with Fox Star Studios, ‘The Zoya Factor’ is co-produced by Pooja Shetty Deora and Aarti Shetty. Pradhuman Singh and Neha Sharma have written the story and screenplay, respectively. The credits for additional dialogues go to Chauhan.


Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Dulquer Salmaan in The Zoya Factor-1568465785055
Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Dulquer Salmaan in 'The Zoya Factor'.

Asked if it would be simpler if she was present at the shoot and improvised the dialogues right then, Chauhan laughed: “Oh no, I wasn’t allowed on the sets. Abhishek was worried there may be too much discussion if I was around. I was a little upset initially, but then figured he was the captain of the ship and needed his own space. We spent a lot of time discussing, writing and editing together — before, during and after the shoot.”

It was a rather gigantic task for Chauhan, as there were several points of differences at almost every step. She revealed: “When I read the draft they sent me, I had a bunch of issues with it. The hero, Nikhil Khoda’s character seemed too flippant ... as opposed to the strong and steady hero in my book. So, naturally, I changed that around. Then, in some places, I felt they had made Zoya too dumb and helpless, which freaked me out. In the book, Zoya is actually pretty good at her job.

“Writing the dialogues was quite easy. The only thing Abhishek used to push back on was if I got too punny. He hates puns. He is pathological about it. Every time I tried sneaking in a pun, he would lecture about how they were the lowest form of humour,” she joked.


In advertising history, Chauhan is still remembered for coining unforgettable slogans such as “Yeh dil maange more” (the heart wants more) and “Nothing official about it” for Pepsi, “Darr ke aage jeet hai” (beyond fear lies victory) for Mountain Dew and “Tedha hai par mera hai” (it’s crooked, but it’s mine for the snack brand Kurkure. She also handled prominent brands including Mirinda, 7 Up, Kitkat, Munch, Lays, Nokia and Boost.

She quit her job in 2010 to pursue a career in writing and a few years ago settled in Bengaluru. Chauhan has since written best-sellers that are soon to be turned into movies — ‘Battle for Bittora’ (Anil Kapoor Film Company), ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’ (Hotstar), ‘The House That BJ Built’ and ‘Baaz’ (Yash Raj Films).


Director Abhishek Sharma and Dulquer Salmaan-1568465776386
Dulquer Salmaan with director Abhishek Sharma.

Ask her about the essentials of writing a novel for a film adaptation and she responds: “A book that makes for a good movie is either one that has a very high concept, a strong premise, or one that has a unique storyline and extremely compelling characters.”

‘The Zoya Factor’s’ story revolves around a Rajput woman, Zoya, who is an executive in an advertising agency. Born when India won the Cricket World Cup in 1983, years later as part of a project she meets the new Indian cricket team. Following an interesting turn of events, while she is working on a campaign with the cricket team, the cricketers realise they win matches when Zoya is around. She ends up becoming a lucky charm of the Men in Blue during the 2011 World Cup.


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It is said that Kapoor Ahuja, a voracious reader, went all out for the role and even got a perm to become Zoya. Kapoor Ahuja said: “I have read the book several times and taken quite a bit of references for my character in the movie.”

Recalling their first meeting, Chauhan mentioned: “Sonam brought all my books that she had already read and asked me to sign the copies. She does a lot of homework and is very methodical. The Kapoors are very warm and welcoming. Anil Kapoor is absolutely brilliant and I am a huge fan. When I met him, he said, ‘I bought your book ‘Battle of Bittora.’ I wondered if he was implying he paid Rs300 and bought a copy of the book. But he corrected by saying he had bought the book’s rights and was to make a movie out of it.”


None of the big heroes were willing to play the lead in the film because of the ‘Zoya’ factor. The feeling was that if the woman’s name was in the title, it meant a ‘woman-oriented’ movie. ‘The Zoya Factor’ is Salmaan’s second Hindi venture after ‘Karwaan’ with Irrfan Khan last year. The South Indian star plays the captain of the Indian cricket team and Kapoor Ahuja’s love interest.

It has been reported that Shah Rukh Khan has a special appearance in the movie, just as in the book. However, when asked if his cameo would be the icing on the cake, Chauhan said: “He has done just the narration. But someone else has a cameo and he is very funny.”


Don’t miss it!

The Zoya Factor releases in the UAE on September 19.


Fact followed fiction. Anuja Chauhan commenced the novel ‘The Zoya Factor’ in 2006 and completed it in 2008. She said: “It was exciting to know that about the time when I had just begun writing the book, the new cricket team was formed. Who would have then thought that the newly minted players, lead by a steady, cool and focused captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, would actually lift the World Cup for India?”

This means Anuja predicted the Team India win three years prior to the event. India won the World Cup in 2011. She said she did not know whether to feel flattered or insulted when (in 2009) she heard that Dhoni had brought home a dog and named her Zoya. “I guess she became his lucky charm,” the writer added.