Anurag Kashyap met Zoya Hussain, the lead star of Mukkabaaz at a film festival. While he may not have liked the script she had written for a screenplay, he certainly loved her in the short film, Three and a half takes, that was being showcased there. That’s how the filmmaker decided to take her on board for Mukkabaaz, recalls Zoya. “I met Anurag through a friend. I had done theatre, but not modelling. I had written a short play, based on Kamala Das’ short story, that I wanted to adapt into a film. I wanted Anurag to read it. He hated it but he said he liked the way I thought. He then happened to see the short film ‘Three and Half Takes’, in which I had a major role. He surprisingly liked it.  And that’s how he wanted to work with me,” Zoya said.

Zoya, may be debuting in Bollywood with Mukkabaaz that’s slated to release on January 12th, but that certainly doesn’t mean she is new to acting. She has been associated with theatre since the age of 17 and has also acted in two-three short films so far. “This is actually my fourth film. For me, this is a very commercial Bollywood movie. Before this I did three English films. They were very experimental in terms of their genre and technique and given that they are all festival movies, they won’t come out commercially. They will all go to the digital spaces like Netflix and Amazon and all,” she said.  (ALSO READ: Anurag Kashyap: Zoya From Mukkabaaz Is Like Nawazuddin Siddiqui)

Zoya said that when Anurag approached her for the part of a mute girl in the upcoming film, she wasn’t sure if he wanted her to essay the role. “He had told me that he would really like to work with me in the future and that he had something in mind for us to collaborate on. However, I thought he was just speaking about it casually as lots of people say lots of things but don’t really mean it most of the times. So, when he sent me the script, I did not realize that he was being serious. He had sent me the script of ‘Mukkabaaz’ and I loved it. I was secretly hoping to tell him that I want to do this film. But I didn’t know whether he just wanted me to read and give him my feedback or act in it,”she said, adding that when she didn’t revert, the filmmaker called her up and gave her a mouth full for not taking it seriously. It was then that she realised that he wanted her to act in the film.

Zoya, who essays a mute woman in the film, said the disability of her character in the movie portrays the lack of voice that women have in the society. In order to get into the skin of her character, Zoya had to undergo rigorous training to learn sign language. She undertook workshops for the same which was quite a daunting task, Zoya added. “I didn’t want my on screen character (Sunaina Mishra) to be like the other deaf and dumb characters we’ve all grown up watching in Hindi cinema because, to be honest, I have always found them to be very caricature like. Anurag Kashyap is known to make realistic films. I was very certain that I wanted her to be realistic. I wanted her to be a person and not just an idea of what a mute girl should be like. I met Sangeeta Gala who has trained artistes in films like Black (2005), Barfi! (2012) and Shamitabh (2015) and trained under her for six-seven months,” she said.

Speaking about her time with Sangeeta, Zoya said, that she would always observe her mannerisms, actions, habits and try to copy the way she would laugh or mouth words (given she was deaf). “It was a great learning experience. Moreover, Sangeeta is a lot into activism and works with kids and women from under-privileged backgrounds and even rape victims. It’s because of her that I could meet people who are living the lives that none of us can even imagine. Most of the times, due to their speech and hearing impediment they are unable to communicate and tell what trauma they’re going through and that is a very helpless feeling. When Sangeeta trains them to express through sign language, it’s the most empowering thing to happen” she said.  Thus the more Zoya met them, the more she realised that she had to be ‘them’ not because she had a responsibility as an actor to be realistic but also because they are actual people who are going through difficult situations, which people are unaware of. “I knew I had to do justice. I knew I had to play the part to the fullest,” she said.

Zoya is certain that the film will resonate with the masses. It is a socio-political love story, of a UP-based boxer, named Shravan Singh (essayed by Vineet Singh) belonging to Kshatriya caste and Sunaina Mishra (Zoya) belonging to Brahmin caste. The film opened to some rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival and Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.