books to film

Why Anuja Chauhan is re-reading her bestselling debut novel ‘The Zoya Factor’

‘I have forgotten large amounts of it,’ said the author about the screenplay she writing for the movie version, starring Sonam Kapoor and Dulquer Salmaan.

Best-selling author and former advertising executive Anuja Chauhan has been re-reading her debut novel these days. Fox Star Studios and Walkwater Media recently announced the film adaptation of Chauhan’s 2008 novel The Zoya Factor. Starring Sonam Kapoor and Dulquer Salmaan, the movie will be directed by Abhishek Sharma and written by Chauhan. “Which is why I had to read the book again – I had forgotten large amounts of it,” she told Scroll.in.

The novel follows young advertising executive Zoya Singh Solanki, who is forced to tour with the Indian cricket team after it emerges that her presence brings them victories. Much has changed about cricket and fandom since the book was published in 2008, but Chauhan is confident that the story remains “extremely timely.” The movie is looking at an April 2019 release.

“It does not seem dated at all to me, and I guess the studio also feels the same,” Chauhan said. “Besides, my publishers tell me that usually a book does not stay in print this long. The life span for an average book is two to three years, and in this case, it has been almost a decade.”

Dulquer Salmaan and Sonam Kapoor.
Dulquer Salmaan and Sonam Kapoor.

With its heady mix of cricket, advertising and romance, The Zoya Factor is arguably one of Chauhan’s most popular books. Her other novels include Battle for Bittora (2010) and Those Pricey Thakur Girls (2013). Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment company had bought the movie rights to The Zoya Factor many years ago, but nothing came of it.

The upcoming movie stars Malayalam movie star Dulquer Salmaan in one of his first Hindi-language productions (he is also shooting for the road movie Karwaan, directed by Akarsh Khurana.) Since the cast is in place, Chauhan is tweaking the screenplay to suit the character played by Salmaan, the cricket team’s captain Nikhil Khoda. “Now that the character is from Kerala, I am just changing a few things so that the story fits in nicely,” Chauhan said.

Although her novels have been described as tailor-made for screen adaptations – there has also been talk of a movie version of Battle for Bittora – Chauhan downplays the perception.

“Even a book like Zoya: because it’s my first book, I didn’t know when to stop writing because I did not know any publisher,” she said. “So I just went on writing. That time, writing was like therapy for me. The book has 406 pages. It’s really fat. So it’s not tailor-made at all. In fact, that is why this writing process took so long, because there are so many layers and so many characters and to pull out something that fits in two and a half hours is not easy.”

Chauhan is also working on the screenplay of her 2017 novel Baaz. The producer of the movie version has not yet been announced. “I am struggling with the same thing – the books are really layered and you have to pull out one single thread and that’s not easy,” she revealed. “It’s hard work because you have to figure out what to throw out and what to keep. I have also written some original screenplays and that actually seems simpler. It would be much easier to write a book tailor-made for the screenplay. I wish I would do that. But frankly, my first love is writing novels.”

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Anuja Chauhan interview.

Chauhan’s current address has helped her in shaping Nikhil Khoda’s character for the screen. “I am not very informed about Southern movies, but now that I live in Bangalore, and my daughter went to St Stephens, which is full of Malayali people, I heard about Dulquer Salmaan through my daughter,” she said. “And then I saw a couple of films of his and was really blown. I think he is really good and the films are really good. I wondered why I haven’t seen them earlier. He is a very good casting choice, and I am really happy about it.”

Chauhan leads what she calls an “idyllic” life in Bengaluru. Her house, on the outskirts of the city, offers “magical” views of Nandi Hills. She also has a better work-life balance than before. “I eat, and I go into my space and write,” Chauhan said. “I can have quiet times at home and then rush out into the city when I feel that bahut zyada solitude ho gaya. You bounce back to that frenetic feeling in Bombay or that buzz in Delhi and you go back to Bangalore, and it’s lovely. I like it. I think it keeps your mind very fresh.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.