» Movies » Watch out for Zoya Hussain, folks!

Watch out for Zoya Hussain, folks!

By Jahnavi Patel
January 12, 2018 12:56 IST
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'During casting calls, people want you to a copy-paste version of who they think is good enough to be in Bollywood, especially if you are a girl. I didn't fit into that at all.'

Zoya Hussain in Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz.

Though it's not her first film, Mukkabaaz is her first Bollywood film, and she's landed quite the challenging part.

Zoya Hussain portrays a mute character in Anurag Kashyap's film which has been warmly received at film festivals in Toronto and Mumbai.

Does she feel nervous about her first big release, which hit theatres on January 12?

"Till now, it released outside the country, so it hasn't felt real," Zoya explains.

Contrary to her character, this Delhi girl loves to talk!

She has strong opinions and does not shy away from expressing them.

Be it the industry's way of working or surviving in it, Zoya has an answer for everything.

But she doesn't have a plan yet.

"I am just going with it and having fun," she says. "Of course, I want to do good (roles) and get more movies."

Sipping coffee, Zoya -- who critic Sreehari Nair noted in his review of Mukkabaaz: 'In the way Zoya Hussain plays Sunaina, the word 'Feisty' doesn't quite do it: She's like a ship in full sail' -- gets comfortable in her chair, and takes questions from's Jahnavi Patel.


How did you think of becoming an actor?

I joined Yatrik Theatre in Delhi when I was 17, 18 years old. That's where I worked through college.

In my family, it was very important to play a sport or an instrument, or paint or sculpt, dance... These are very normal things for us.

I had been acting for a couple of years, so moving to Mumbai was a natural progression.

I didn't know how difficult it would be until much later.

So how difficult was it?

Very difficult.

When you move here, without your family, you have to first deal with the city -- the monsoons, the fungus in your cupboard, the small house.

You meet so many kinds of people -- there are some terrible people and then, there are some good people.

During the casting calls, people want you to be like a copy-paste version of who they think is good enough to be in Bollywood, especially if you are a girl.

I didn't fit into that at all.

I got a lot of criticism for not changing the way I was, for sticking to my guns.

But I am glad that I did because it helped me become my own person and stand out.

How difficult was it to land roles?

Mukkabaaz is my fourth film.

The earlier three films are very indie and experimental.

I didn't just say yes to work. I am not desperate to be in films.

Yes, I am a creative person, but I have integrity.

Having said that, I was aware that I have to compromise on my sensibilities.


IMAGE: Zoya Hussain and Vineet Kumar Singh in Mukkabaaz.

Why did you choose Mukkabaaz?

I have known Anurag (Kashyap) for four, five years.

I had met him through a common friend, Avani, who is a documentary film-maker. He was producing her documentary, Raghu Rai, an Unframed Portrait, which came out in 2017.

I actually wanted him to act in this stage-to-screen adaption that I was writing.

He found it interesting, but told me that I needed to develop it.

I think he secretly hated it and was being polite!

Meanwhile, I had done this other film, Three And A Half Takes, which premiered at the Kerala International Film Festival, and he saw that.

He told me he would do something with me.

He sent me the script of Mukkabaaz and I loved it.

But I was still confused -- did he want my feedback to know my sensibilities or does he want to cast me in it?

After a few days, he called and asked, 'Are you not excited? What kind of behaviour is this?'

And I was like, 'Do you want to cast me?'

Then I lost my s**t.

You love to talk but your character in Mukkabaaz is mute. Was that tough or easy?

Both. The easy part was that my training was in theatre, and this is what you train for.

I don't find non-verbal communication difficult, but it is frustrating.

The sign language part, of course, I wanted to learn properly.

I wanted to exceed Anurag's expectations.

He improvises a lot, he shoots fast and dialogues are his forte.

IMAGE: The Mukkabaaz team: Ravi Kishan, Aanand L Rai, Jimmy Shergill, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Hussain, Vineet Kumar Singh. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vineet Singh/Twitter

How much will your character influence the story?

It's a love story, so you need a girl and I'm the girl! (laughs).

The really good thing about Mukkabaaz is even though it's about Sunaina and Shravan (Zoya and Vineet's characters), the backdrop is boxing and the politics of it.

How was the experience at the Toronto International Film Festival?

Really good! It's really a high because Anurag has such a huge audience outside this country.

TIFF was great fun, the atmosphere, the vibe...

It was exciting to meet people from all over the world.

I don't think there was any negative feedback for the film.

How important is Mukkabaaz for you?

Very important, because it's my first Bollywood movie.

There are different reasons for all of us.

For Vineet, because he has struggled and written it.

For me, it's a huge transition.

For Anurag, it's a homecoming of sorts.

For (music director) Rachita, it's her first big film. She did Mukkabaaz first, then Newton and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan.

For Hussain Haidry, who has written the lyrics.

So, this film will always be special.

IMAGE: Zoya Hussain and Vineet Kumar Singh in Mukkabaaz.

It's an unusual debut. Why did you choose this, and not a big Bollywood debut?

It's not that I didn't want to, but I love Anurag. I love his movies. I love this film and my character.

I would rather do a 'smaller film' like Mukkabaaz than be arm candy in a commercial film.

I don't want to be replaceable.

I want to be the best version of me.

Also, I think a really good shift has happened in the last two, three years.

A lot of actresses dilute their personalities -- not because they don't have one, but because they want work.

You end up doing things you agree or not agree with because unfortunately, that's the way it is.

But it's good in the past two, three years.

Amazing stories have come out, small movies have done well... it validates the fact that 'no, you can't be mediocre anymore'.

Everyone in all the film industries -- the technical team -- is upping their game, except actors, because they are lazy. And, nepotism.

But now, we have come to a point where actors cannot get away with bulls**t work.

Most actresses come from the modelling world or film families.

Yes, you are very confident. Yes, you look amazing but then, who doesn't?

But when you come from a creative background, there are certain things you are just good at.

It's good that those people are being given opportunities.

Is it difficult to get a good role?

Of course, especially if you come from nowhere and have no reference.

I didn't have a show reel. I cannot show them the plays I did.

Even Anurag took me seriously after he saw a film of mine.

If I just talked about it, he wouldn't have had the same reaction.

So it's very difficult.

IMAGE: Zoya Hussain and Vineet Kumar Singh at the trailer launch of Mukkabaaz.

How difficult is it survive in Bollywood?

Living in this city is expensive and difficult.

It's a high maintenance city.

How do you make ends meet?

Not just living on a shoestring budget, but how do you afford nice things?

How do you go out?

How do you have fun?

How do you live comfortably?

How do you pay bills?

Yes, parents can send you money or they can fully finance it... everybody's situation is different, but it was definitely difficult for me.

Nobody was running after me with a script. I had to do it for myself.

IMAGE: Zoya Hussain and Vineet Kumar Singh in Mukkabaaz.

Grooming and styling for actresses must be tough too.


The perception is that if you are an actress, you are supposed to look glamorous.

And if you are a good actor, that's a bonus. But that's not among the top five requirements.

Most actresses come from the modelling world and they are beautiful. But that doesn't mean that people who come from a theatre background should be slobs. They should be well presented too because it is a visual medium.

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Jahnavi Patel / Watch out for Zoya Hussain, folks!