Zoya Hussain appears supremely confident of herself. And why not? She’s glad that her Bollywood debut role in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Mukkabaaz‘ has been profoundly recognized as Sunaina, Shravan’s (Vineet Kumar Singh) mute sweetheart, and an enraged Bhagwandas Mishra’s (Jimmy Shergill) niece.
The debutant reveals that making Sunaina mute was a conscious decision. She enjoyed the creative synergy that expanded her limitations because she could not express verbally.
She says, “Initially, I wasn’t supposed to play a mute and the idea occurred while the story was developing. I think we live in a very patriarchal society and it is often very sexist. We are frequently treated like second-class citizens. People come up with things like, “Oh you must do this, as long as you know your place”. The whole intention of making this character mute was largely symbolic of the kind of place in society that a woman is supposed to have. This is almost paradoxical. Sunaina cannot speak yet she is way more feisty than Shravan is; She is full of life. We all know about the condition of women in society, and we deliberately wanted to show the other side. Here’s a girl who is so confident, who is so secure, and so determined. She comes from a small town but she has a burning desire to break free and be her own captain. Her mother is also a feisty woman and her father is very loving and caring. She’s with this guy who is not an insecure man. He doesn’t mind if she is earning more than him, is more educated than him, comes from a higher cast, a wealthier family and he is okay with all of these factors because he has the ability to acknowledge a woman who can be better than him. We wanted to put forward such things and we did not want to underline it. We didn’t want it to be an issue based movie. We wanted it to be normal because that’s how it is in reality. We all live a very normal life.”
Daria wanted theatre people because it was a one-take film. It comprises of three short stories that merge together, to make one film because they’re set in the same room.
She continues, “I know Anurag for about five years. I don’t see him as ‘The Anurag Kashyap’. So when people ask me if I was nervous around him, I’d say I was not. He’s really fun and crazy but at the same time, he is an amazing person. I am really thankful to Daria. When this kind of a collaboration is involved, you feel you need to be on your toes because he is a genius at what he does. He knows the road really well and he knows what to do to get what he wants out of all of us. It’s actually great to see yourself through somebody else’s eyes, especially somebody you really trust and somebody whose opinion you value and agree with. It’s great to see yourself how other people see you. And then you discover new aspects of yourself. I’ve grown and seen newer perspectives through both, Daria and Anurag.”
I am very happy with how things are after ‘Mukkabaaz‘ has happened to me. The film has opened diverse avenues and a lot of good people have actually started recognising me… In the last two-three years, there has been a great shift in quality content. And people are making really good movies so I would love to be a part of content-driven cinema. I would want to be a part of the mainstream as well as indie art, so I want a good merging of the two.
Before ‘Mukkabaaz’, Zoya had teamed up with Anurag Kashyap as the producer for ‘Teen Aur Aadha’ directed by Dar Gai. The movie was filmed in three long shots (there are only three cuts in the film) and tells the story of a house and its inhabitants in three different eras.
Photographed by: Aditya Varma
“Daria wanted theatre people because it was a one-take film. It comprises of three short stories that merge together, to make one film because they’re set in the same room. You can interpret it in various ways but it’s basically the story of the room which is stretched over many years. My character is called Sarla and I play one of the prostitutes at the brothel. It’s a different way of looking at a thing which would otherwise be shunned down.”
I took a couple of months to learn sign language…My sign language teacher, Sangeeta, helped me a lot with it. I wanted to learn it from scratch because that way I could improvise. A script gets very stiff when you can’t improvise and add your own emotions and reactions. I wanted to put forward the most real version of Sunaina.
She admits that she has learnt numerous things while working with the two directors; things that she was aware of. She confides,
“Teen Aur Aadha‘ is my first film in Mumbai after that I did two films before Mukkabaaz. So from ‘Teen Aur Aadha‘ to ‘Mukkabaaz‘, it has been quite a while; around three years. My takeaway is that you have to let yourself be vulnerable and you really have to trust your director. If you’ve decided to say yes, then you trust your director and be a part of the collaboration while doing your own part. I love to be on set, even when I am not shooting and I like to be there and watch other actors because everybody is so different. They work differently. You have so much to learn simply by watching people. Sometimes you become too serious and involved and you forget to interact with your surrounding. So both Daria and Anurag interact a lot with their surroundings and we can use a lot of that in our performance as well. Both of them like to be natural and candid. It’s not that common actually.”
Photographed by: Aditya Varma
Movie buffs, fans and just everyone in general, cannot get enough of the extremely charming Zoya. Level-headed, practical, adjusting Sunaina from ‘Mukkabaaz‘ broke the masculinity of the movie that probably is on everyone’s list of favourites. We were quite curious about Sarla (essayed by Zoya Hussain in ‘Teen Aur Aadha‘). Both Sarla and Sunaina were important characters that she personated at the beginning of her career. We questioned her which among the two characters can she relate to,
“I can connect to Sunaina. You can’t really judge your character because then you’re letting it down. People are people and emotions are emotions and you come here to do what you’re doing and yes, of course, there are a few characters that are more relatable overall, but you do not judge them. Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s sad. Everybody feels jealous and everybody feels lonely. I try to play them like that. I try to be close to Sunaina but not really close at the same time. It’s just a closer version of me, but it is not me.”
With no filmi background and no godfather to back her in the industry, her journey in Bollywood has been difficult. But she knows her work, and she knows it well. Her honesty towards her work is evident as she speaks at length about being trained in sign language for the role that made her a veritable hit among the audiences.
“I took a couple of months to learn sign language. I had done my research and started meeting lots of people and also tried exposing myself to people who actually communicated this way. My sign language teacher, Sangeeta, helped me a lot with it. I wanted to learn it from scratch because that way I could improvise. A script gets very stiff when you can’t improvise and add your own emotions and reactions. I wanted to put forward the most real version of Sunaina. Sangeeta is deaf herself. Just the act of watching her and seeing her do her daily activities was very inspiring. I tried to put Sunaina in the same place; after all, she is just another person who is wired in a different way.”
Casting couch exists but not in the way people think it is where you’re called into a room and there is this sleazy guy. It is done in a different way. They’ll either call you to their rooms really late or they’ll call or message you at odd hours. It is not as filmy as you think it is.
The sagacious Zoya is certainly a self-made woman, through and through. She wouldn’t be someone who’d play the victim card and wait for things to happen to her magically. She has devised her own philosophy of survival and shares her opinion about the casting couch situation prevalent in the industry.
“Casting couch exists but not in the way people think it is where you’re called into a room and there is this sleazy guy. It is done in a different way. They’ll either call you to their rooms really late or they’ll call or message you at odd hours. It is not as filmy as you think it is. I have not experienced anything too on the face but I have received these weird kind of messages and you just don’t reply. When you reply in the morning they just lose interest themselves. All of us have our own defence mechanism to combat criticism, the city and everything beyond our comfort zone.”
Seldom do we come across any other newcomer in Bollywood that enjoys the kind of bliss that Zoya is experiencing currently, that too with their debut films. You can call her lucky, call her hardworking or call her determined, but her days of struggle in Mumbai are now in the past and she has occupied a spot at the marquee with great enthusiasm and persistence. While she nonchalantly accepts that work begets work, the zesty lady has left a mark and has certainly raised the bar.
“The process of getting here has been slow but not disappointing. It has been slow because when you don’t know anybody, there’s a lot of running around that takes place. There are auditions after auditions and you don’t have any office to go to and there are no fixed working hours. There is no routine and there is no avenue. You just have to make friends and have people who are willing to help and recommend you. The process might be slow but you have to be motivated and steadfast. I am happy with the way things have happened. I did not come from a film background and my parents had nothing to do with this industry. I was mentally prepared that it is going to take some time.”
Her inclination towards movies can be traced back to her childhood. She shares,
“I have been acting for a while, and I’ve done theatre in Delhi after which I had moved to Mumbai. I was working, writing and doing a lot of activities. I have always wanted to act so it was always on my mind. About six years back, theatre in Delhi couldn’t have been taken as a full-time profession as there wasn’t much happening. Mumbai seemed like a natural progression and it just happened because you cannot really sustain yourself doing theatre in Delhi. When you’re starting from scratch it is difficult to manage and theatre actually requires time. It was a new place and I didn’t have any guide, and in fact, I only had a cousin who lived here. I figured things on my own. I had come here for a film audition and then I met one person and one person became two and the two became four and four became eight and the rest is history.”
She adds, “I have always been involved in performing arts and so my parents were well aware of my inclinations. My sister and I were both fascinated by the theatre. Everybody in my family was from boarding school so it was very important for us to play a sport and play an instrument, have a hobby and always be active and not be a one-dimensional person. My sister is a writer and works for an online media agency, my mother is a child psychologist and my father was into adventure tourism. So they were supportive of my decision to do acting since I have been involved in the theatres from a very young age.”
When dreams are heartfelt, the Universe conspires to fulfil them. We questioned Zoya how she deals with her new found fame and she frankly responds,
“I live under a rock anyway. People are nice here. However, people are going to say nice things and people are going to say bad things. I’m going to appreciate it but I don’t really dwell on them so much. I don’t take it that seriously because all the opinions that they have of me, they don’t really know me and I don’t really know them either. I take appreciation and criticism both with a pinch of salt. I am very happy with how things are after ‘Mukkabaaz’ has happened to me. The film has opened diverse avenues and a lot of good people have actually started recognising me. A lot of great people that I would like to work with have also watched the film and I am looking forward to the projects that I am doing and projects that have been lined up. In the last two-three years, there has been a great shift in quality content. And people are making really good movies so I would love to be a part of content-driven cinema. I would want to be a part of the mainstream as well as indie art, so I want a good merging of the two. Earlier the kind of works that were coming about was narrow but now there are an array of opportunities and the pie chart has broadened massively.”
Zoya’s optimism kept our entire conversation afloat. Powerful roles, strong statements — this pretty much describes Zoya Hussain for those who don’t know her well.
In conclusion, she says, “Work. Work as much as you can. Put yourself out there because otherwise, people will just not know that you exist. It is as simple as that. You need to make good choices and it depends so much on the kind of movies that you want to do. I knew what kind of movies I wanted to do and I pursued those people. Reach out to people, and get in touch with them. Do short films and do movies. Write and occupy yourself with something. I think most actors have additional activities to channel their energy into. Go to the gym, work on yourself and socialize. So basically, have another life. It keeps you grounded, sane, and happy when things don’t work out the way you want them to. Work brings more work, so keep working.
“WATCH the trailer of Mukkabaaz:
WATCH Paintra Song from Mukkabaaz:
WATCH the trailer of Teen aur Aadha: