Anuja Chauhan’s debut novel, The Zoya Factor, is a rollicking, if mildly overwrought, tale which brings together two seemingly disparate concepts: cricket and chick lit. The protagonist ends up becoming a lucky charm for the Indian cricket team and then complicates things by falling for the captain. We caught up with ad film-maker Chauhan on her cellphone amid a hectic Lays-Dhoni shoot at Mukesh Mills in Mumbai. Edited excerpts.
So, you’ve managed to bring together strange bedfellows: cricket and chick lit?
Strange bedfellows? No way! Cricketers and girls totally go together. But yes, writing about cricket in an irreverent manner was refreshing. Cricket is this holy cow. Cricket books are all these sober profiles and biographies and things. There is this very reverential, hallowed attitude towards the game. My book does give the whole thing a kick on its backside.
Lucky charm: Anuja Chauhan.
What was your inspiration?
I had spoken to a colleague many years ago who told me a story of something similar about the Juventus football team. And then, suddenly, one day the idea hit me. Everyone is superstitious. You, me and even cricketers. And I wanted a regular girl to enter the world of cricket and turn it on its head.
And I didn’t want her to be a bimbo cricket groupie chick either. I could really have fun with how it messes around with her mind.
And the cricketers? Are they based on real characters too?
Yup. Nikhil Khoda for instance is my alpha cricketer. A guy who embodies everything I like about my favourite cricket players. Not that he’s irritatingly perfect or infallible or anything. He’s flawed and insecure too.
In the first third or so of the book Zoya is perhaps a tad too feisty. Her character is supremely self-conscious...
You thought she was irritating? Well, I think she is a little full of herself. All of us advertising types are. So maybe that’s what came through. But most people who read the book loved her...
The introduction mentions that this was the first time you’d written anything longer than 60 seconds.
My original manuscript was even longer. What you see now is around 10,000 words shorter than the full version. It was fun letting go and indulging my imagination. In advertising there are so many constraints — duration, budgets, celebrity endorsers, directors.
Luck and chance play a large role in the book. Do you believe in luck and chance yourself?
I would totally buy the premise of my book. If someone like Zoya was born on that day and was always around whenever the team won, I would lap it all up.
And so would a lot of other people. When (actor) Shah Rukh Khan was in the stands during the Twenty20 World Cup and we kept winning, everyone said he was a lucky charm. They said the same thing about him when the Knight Riders were playing. The premise is not that fantastic at all. I don’t think I am a lucky charm, though. I’ve had my share of ups and downs.
King Khan is a friend, isn’t he? Surely you can tell us something about him we’ve never heard before.
Not a chance…his life is so public. You guys know everything already.
So what’s next? A book on Bollywood?
Bollywood is old news. I am thinking of writing a book on politicians. The next sacred cow I want to slaughter is politics and all our netas.
And will Zoya be around to wreak havoc?
No, dude. Zoya’s life is set. She has found her dream man who won the World Cup. They are in a committed relationship. I am totally over Zoya.