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.”
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.”
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.”