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Friday, September 22, 2023

Dulquer Salmaan on The Zoya Factor: “I Cannot Plan My Future Around Luck”

Dulquer Salmaan is a heartthrob who has taken the South-Indian film industry by storm.

Be it films Ustad Hotel, ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi or O Kadhal Kanmani, Salmaan has continued to rise as an actor.

Last year, he made his Hindi film debut alongside Irrfan Khan in Karwaan, in which he impressed us by playing a miserable man whose father’s corpse is mistakenly taken. 

One is certain that Dulquer’s presence in Bollywood is only going to get more prominent with The Zoya Factor, adapted from Anuja Chauhan’s original novel.

The Zoya Factor is based on India’s obsession with cricket and luck and how Zoya Solanki played by (Sonam Kapoor) becomes India’s lucky charm.

Salmaan plays the role of Zoya’s boyfriend – Nikhil Khoda and the captain of the Indian cricket team.

Filme Shilmy caught up with Dulquer to talk about the film, the latest trends in the industry and his transition from South to North Indian cinema.

The Zoya Factor marks your second film in Hindi. How easy has the transition from South Indian cinema to Bollywood been for you? Have you settled in well?

I guess so (laughs). I’ve been quite lucky to have a decent knack for languages.

I believe this is the fourth industry, the fourth language in India that I’m working in.

I’ve managed to meet a lot of wonderful people, have been lucky both times round and had amazing teams to work with.

Even for The Zoya Factor, I have known the producers – Aarrti and Pooja way before I was even an actor, so during my college time.

Thus, it was lovely to come to a full circle and work on something together.

It’s been great. I have been quite fortunate with all the opportunities that I’ve been getting.

Prior to choosing the film, did you read Anuja Chauhan’s original novel? If so, what was your reaction?

So, I have this habit of collecting books at airports and play catch-up.

I had the book, but I hadn’t read it at the time the film was offered.

At that point, the makers were like: “if you haven’t read it, wait as we’d like you to read the script first and then read the book.”

I’m glad I got to hear the script and screenplay because then I could objectively hear it as the film first.

Subsequently, I went on to read the book and it is more detailed/lengthy.

Usually, in a film format, you can’t really fit everything in but it has been beautifully adapted.

Anuja has been a part of the writing and adapting it.

In fact, there were some scenes which we were trying to do in different locations. We just were not getting it right.

So we cross-checked with her and shot it again and it worked out beautifully.

She has been integral in this whole process.

How much of a cricket fan are you in real life?

I think it’s very difficult to grow up in India or an Indian family without being exposed to cricket.

It’s definitely been a major part of my growing up as I used to play Gully (Street) cricket.

I moved from Kerala to Chennai when I was 7-years-old and the easiest way for me to make new friends was by stepping out and join the kids playing cricket. 

I went to college in America where kids from all over the globe (from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc) were so into cricket thus we would play every Sunday. 

It was quite unifying.

You play Nikhil Khoda – the captain of India’s cricket team. What was your main reference point as an actor?

For the most part, (even in Anuja’s writing), you can see influences/glimpses of our prolific captains.

There are traces of Virat Kohli and Dhoni… All of these men whom I look up to and a huge fan of.

There are small reference points like my jersey number 7 and look is loosely based around Virat.

It wasn’t conscious, but the makers had certain influences with the way they were planning my character.

So, I happily went along with it. These were just a few easter eggs planted along the way.

Though your character is quite sceptical of luck, how superstitious are you? Do you believe in luck?

Not really. In fact, that was one of the main reasons why I could relate to Nikhil and what he believes in.

He is all about hard work, I’ve definitely been fortunate enough to have been in a family where my father is an actor and the fact that I got my first break easier than some others.

I’m close to 30 films old and I’ve worked very hard and I think that’s what keeps one going.

I cannot plan my future around ‘luck’ Hence, I give it my best… I leave it to the audience and see what happens.

Several cricketers and actors can get quite superstitious because you could give 200% in every film but sometimes it may not work due to reasons beyond your control.  

There are some people who dub their voice, will choose to do it in a particular studio or chair. 

Once you get superstitious, I feel that there is no end to it so I stay away. 

You’ve always been a believer in ‘good cinema’. According to you, what defines that?

When films come my way, I try to understand what the filmmaker’s intent is. Is it a passion to make something special or new?

I always try and do original content. I do not wish to do remakes and find some easy way out.

Also, if someone is very inspired when they come up with an idea, is something I consider.

Sometimes to find these gems you have to really look hard and find those inspiring works.

After that, I’m very happy for the makers to package the film as commercial as possible and for it to reach as many people as possible.

Indian regional cinema seems to be on a revival. What do you think is contributing to this popularity? Has it been a long time coming?

I think the avenues have opened up… Especially in terms of viewership. I think the prominence of the web, people all over the globe are watching all kinds of cinema.

If you love cinema, irrespective of whether you know the language or not, you’re still kind of watching it.

Plus, it’s a combination of things. Once the economy boomed in India, people were moving all around the country for job opportunities.

So everybody (from up North) will probably have friends from South-India.

Everyone is watching each other’s films and discussing them.

As for makers, technology has become more accessible and cheaper since we no longer are shooting on film – which is an expensive way to make movies.

Since the emergence of digital media, anyone with a good SLR camera can become a good filmmaker… You don’t have to go through the grind of assisting people for a decade and then getting a break.

There are so many Hindi remakes of South films happening. How do you feel about this being a lack of creativity in the industry?

It’s always been the case in the past… Even in the 80s and 90s. It is not always about South movies being made in Hindi, sometimes it’s the other way round.

What happens is that this giant ball of profit needs to keep rolling.

You need to have x-amount of films releasing every year and there have to be revenue streams coming out from various production houses.

Sometimes filmmakers adapt films from other languages because it’s quicker and easier to convince people for them to be a part of the movie as they have a product to show.

I have nothing against it. If it works for someone then great. I actually find it quite flattering when my films are remade.

Listen to our interview with Dulquer Salmaan here!


Going forward, what style of movies and roles would you be keen on exploring?

I wouldn’t want to box myself in doing certain kind of roles and movies. I’m open to all kinds of cinema and genres.

I try to challenge myself as much as possible though sometimes I do play to my strengths. 

As I do 3-5 films a year, it kind of balances out. Some percentage of the films I do each year creatively fulfils me. 

Currently, I’m juggling between Malayalam and Tamil movies. There might be something in Hindi – which I can talk about once it’s confirmed.

I’ve also set up a production house and now that I’m all over the place, I’m missing out on a lot of good movies that are being made in Malayalam.

So I also want to produce content that I’m not acting in, just for my greed to be a part of good cinema (laughs). 

The Zoya Factor is directed by Abhishek Sharma and presented by Fox Star Studios, it releases in cinemas on 20th September.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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