Dulquer Salmaan on 'The Zoya Factor': 'Playing an Indian cricket captain was one of my biggest challenges'

'The Zoya Factor' is a light-hearted, satirical take on the frenzy of superstitions India inadvertently slips into in the days leading up to an important match

Dulquer Salmaan plays the captain of the Indian cricket team in 'The Zoya Factor'. Courtesy Fox Star Studios.
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It's no secret cricket is akin to a religion in India and players can find themselves being deified one day and demonised the next, depending on what side of the win-lose cycle they find themselves. And the cricketing rivalry between India and Pakistan is among the most intense in the world.

Throughout the sport's history, cricketers have been known to gravitate towards lucky charms and superstitions as some kind of mental crutch to deal with the overwhelming pressure of playing – a nebulous factor that transcends logic or reason, and manifests itself in mysterious ways.

Former India captain Sachin Tendulkar, who is often lovingly referred to as the god of cricket in the country, was famous for always putting his left pad on first. Virat Kohli, the current India captain, has a pair of lucky gloves, while compatriot Zaheer Khan has a lucky yellow handkerchief. The list goes on.

Director Abhishek Sharma's latest film, The Zoya Factor, starring Sonam Kapoor and Dulquer Salmaan, is a light-hearted, satirical take on the illogical but unfailingly entertaining frenzy of superstitions that India slips into in the days leading up to an important match.

Adapted from Anuja Chauhan's 2008 novel of the same name, the film follows Zoya (Kapoor), an advertising professional who finds herself in the unenviable position of being considered the Indian cricket team's lucky mascot. The position comes with perks, such as fame and adoring fans, but also criticism, particularly from the captain of the team, Nikhil Khoda (Salmaan), who believes only in hard work.

The Zoya Factor is only Salmaan's second Hindi film, but he's no novice. He has starred in almost 30 films across Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu cinema in a seven-­year career, winning a host of awards.

Dulquer Salmaan, left, and Sonam Kapoor play the lead roles in ‘The Zoya Factor’. Courtesy Tushar Firan 2016

It's unusual to see an established actor accept a secondary role so early in his Bollywood career, given that most Hindi films tend to favour the male lead over the female, across genres. But Salmaan says it was a perfect fit for him.

"I loved the script,"he tells The National. "It discusses so many things – cricket, superstitions, how society perceives you when you're considered lucky. What happens when two people with completely different takes on luck and hard work fall in love.

"Ultimately, the movie is The Zoya Factor, but I like the character of Nikhil a lot. He believes in hard work and is self-made. I like the conflict of him believing one thing, even when every one around him believes another."

'The Zoya Factor' has been adapted from Anuja Chauhan's best-selling novel of the same name. Courtesy Fox Star Studios

Superstitions can be a tricky subject to tackle in India, especially when combined with humour and placed within the context of cricket. But Salmaan says he is confident the film will be received in the spirit with which it was made.

"All cricket fans have quirks. Some will only sit on a specific part of the couch because it's good luck, and some will not take pee breaks because leaving the room would be bad luck. And they're all accepted and joked about," says Salmaan. "I'm actually glad we're attempting a conversation about superstitions in comedy, instead of the horror or thriller genres. I think people will relate to that."

What Salmaan is eager to see, though, is whether a cricket-­crazy country takes him seriously as its cricket captain. "I've only played cricket recreationally. Playing the captain was one of my biggest challenges," he says.

"I had to get lots of training. All of us teammates in the film had to have many training sessions together. In India, where cricket is like a religion, even fans can get technical. I hope the movie looks authentic."

While the opinions of cricket fans will be revealed soon enough, The Zoya Factor has already received the blessing of Tendulkar, who wished the cast well on Twitter after watching the film's trailer. As far as lucky charms go, having the god of cricket himself show you favour is as good as it gets. 

Read our interview with The Zoya Factor's author, Anuja Chauhan, here: