“I phelo-ed like raita, slightly,” says Anuja Chauhan at the beginning of our conversation about the work she did for the screen adaptation of her best-selling 2008 debut novel, The Zoya Factor, which releases next month, and stars Sonam Kapoor and Dulquer Salmaan. The simile sounds clumsy when one attempts to translate it into English — spread like runny yogurt — but the 48-year-old writer and former adwoman knows exactly what to say for you to get the picture. “I’m credited for giving additional dialogues, and I’ve given other inputs in the screenplay. They came to me early last year after they had written all of it. When I read it, I thought it could have done with some…” says Chauhan, her voice fading to indicate that it would be rude to say the actual words in her head. “I dove in and I was brutal and frank, but what was amazing was that so were Pradhuman Singh and Neha Sharma, who wrote the story and screenplay respectively,” she adds.
For the past hour, Chauhan has gamely answered the same questions inside the Jubilee Room of the Sun-n-Sand hotel in Juhu. “The film’s definitely shorter, because when I was writing the book, I didn’t have any idea of how long or not it should be, and the it kept getting fatter and fatter,” she says, “But I’m glad that there’s more of the cricket, the locker room and more Nikhil in the film, because he’s being played by Dulquer — what a cutie!”
The Zoya Factor is a story about Zoya Singh Solanki, an executive in an advertising agency, who was born at the same moment that India won the cricket world cup in 1983. While working on a campaign with the present-day Indian cricket team, the cricketers realise that they win matches when she’s around — overnight, Zoya becomes the team’s lucky charm. “I’ve seen several versions of the film and what I’ve really enjoyed is how real the cricket feels. As well as the advertising world, with all the logos and brands. It has stayed authentic to the book. Sonam went all out for the role, she’s got a perm, and she’s really become Zoya,” says Chauhan, who would have liked to be an extra in the film, but says she wasn’t allowed to be on the set by director Abhishek Sharma.
There’s good news for those of us who watched the ghastly TV adaptation of her excellent third novel, Those Pricey Thakur Girls (2013) a couple of years ago — Chauhan is working on a web series based on it for Hotstar. “Additionally, I’m writing the screenplay for Baaz, my last novel that came out in 2017, and a couple of commissioned pieces for OTT platforms. They’re fresh subjects, nothing I’ve done before, so I’m very excited about it. Of course, there’s always an idea for another book in my head but I won’t write it now,” she says.
Chauhan, who will go down in advertising history as the woman who came up with unforgettable slogans such as Yeh dil maange more and Nothing official about it for Pepsi, Darr ke aage jeet hai for Mountain Dew and Tedha hai par mera hai for Kurkure, isn’t thinking about writing for products anymore, but keenly feels the need to come up with campaigns for civil society. “Maybe the idea of India is something we should all be writing about, trying to explain it in a way that people understand. There are film stars who appear in these kind of ads but what they’re doing is moral science. That’s not what I think is needed right now,” she says.