Interview Hindi

Anurag Kashyap said he is making a family movie, says Mukkabaaz actress Zoya Hussain

The actress shares her journey which began with the director losing his temper at her during the earliest stage of the project.

With Vineet Kumar Singh in Mukkabaaz.

Keyur Seta

When Mukkabaaz was offered to Zoya Hussain, she thought it would be a typical Anurag Kashyap film where she would get to do some "dark antics". So she was stunned to learn that it is a love story and she has a romantic part in it. From then began her struggle to learn sign language, as she plays a mute young woman.

In a candid conversation, Zoya Hussain spoke of her interesting Mukkabaaz journey which started with the director getting angry with her during the earliest stage of the project. Excerpts:

How did you come to be cast in Mukkabaaz?

This is actually my fourth film and my first Hindi film. Before this one, I had done three English films. They were like festival films. I met Anurag when he was producing a documentary which was made by my friend.

My background is theatre. I had written a play and wanted to adapt it into a film. I secretly wanted him to act in it since his background is also theatre. But Anurag didn’t like the script. He hated it! But he said he liked the way I think and wanted me to develop and then he would see what could be done with it. He was interested.

I had done a film Teen Aur Aadha, which was shown recently at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). Anurag saw the film and he was like, ‘You can do this [acting] too?’ I said, ‘Actually, I am doing only this for 4-5 years.’ He said we will work together.

I thought he had said this before too. It’s not that I didn’t believe him. But many people say this. And he is too busy.

He then sent me the script of Mukkabaaz. I was confused whether he just wants my opinion on the script to know my thinking or he wants to cast me. I wanted him to cast me.

I was shooting for something else then. So I didn’t look at [the script] for 2-3 days. After 2-3 days he called me and scolded me, saying things like, ‘You don’t want to do it? You are not taking it seriously. If you have this attitude, how will it work?’ I told him I am confused and asked if he wants to work with me for this. He said, ‘Why else will I send you the script?’ My reaction was completely different after this phone call.

How challenging was it to play a mute character who speaks in sign language?

It was indeed difficult to speak in sign language because you are required to learn an altogether different way of communication. I wanted it to be muscle memory. The films so far that have shown people using sign language have done so in a carricaturish manner. It is shown to be big and it doesn’t appear natural. People who speak in sign language don’t speak this way.

In this film, she can hear. She knows the concept of volume, so she doesn’t need to be loud. But I still had to learn it. I wanted to learn it right from A, B, C, so that I can improvise later. Anurag, Vineet [Kumar Singh] and Shreedhar's [Shreedhar Dubey's] strength is improvisation. Anurag encourages that. So, I didn’t want to be left behind. And since it is my first big-scale film, I also wanted to stand out. 

Zoya Hussain

I have done theatre where we are taught that our body itself is a tool. A lot of theatre workshops focus on non-verbal communication. So, it was difficult for me because when you wish to say something and are unable to through sign language, there comes frustration. But the characters — Shravan and Sunaina — are such that even the guy is unable to understand what she wants to say. That’s the problem in our relationship. Fortunately in this film, I could put my personal frustration into my character. That was very smartly done by Anurag of course (laughs). 

Anurag Kashyap is not known for making love stories. So, how was it being a heroine in his film?

I have seen all his films, obviously. But I was one of the first few people to see Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016). I really loved the film as I saw its first edit. When he said he wanted to work with me, I felt like I would get to do these cool, experimental roles. Those were the films I was doing before. I thought I will have dying scenes or I will be killing somebody.

But when I read [the script of Mukkabaaz], I was like yeh toh love story hai! He said, I am making a family movie. I said, you please don’t make a family movie. He said he will make it in his style. When our workshops started I felt this isn’t what I expected. This is much more than I expected.

How did you learn sign language and from whom?

I had to run behind my teacher Sangeeta Gala a lot. She has provided sign language training in films like Khamoshi (1996), Black (2005), Ra.One (2011), Barfi! (2012), Shamitabh (2014), etc. I was given the option of joining a school for the deaf or training with a personal tutor. I couldn't find anyone.

Then I came to know that Sangeeta had worked for a silent national anthem. I knew someone who had worked with her as AD [assistant director], who put me in touch with her.

But she didn't take me seriously because I wasn't allowed to talk about the film. She wanted to know why she should waste her time with me. She said if you just want to learn, I can teach you once a week. But I told her we need to meet daily.

She finally worked with me. It took me months to learn sign language because I didn't just want to learn my lines. I wanted to learn basic communication.

There are such people and life is very tough for them. The more time I spent with her, the more I realized this is an amazing life skill to have.

Sangeeta herself is deaf and she engages in a lot of activism. She does a lot of charity work in Siddhivinayak temple [in Mumbai]. Eventually I became an intepreter for her for the movie. 

As Mukkabaaz is not a typical Anurag Kashyap film, it is more commercial, how much are you thinking about the box office?

I am nervous and excited because we all like Anurag's movies. But we watch them on DVD and laptop and he is also okay with that. I hope it does well at the box office for him and, of course, for all of us so that more such films get made.

Do you have any other films in the pipeline?

I do have but they would be announced in 1-2 months. I am very excited about them. I guess by the time Mukkabaaz is released, they might be announced.