“I used to say this as a joke, but I think it’s true—Anurag [Kashyap] is nuts and lovely,” says Zoya Hussain, the star of the director’s new politically charged film, Mukkabaaz, about a low-caste boxer who attempts to fight the system to make his mark in the sporting world. Following a critically lauded premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and after opening the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in October, the movie is set to hit theatres this month—and potentially change Hussain’s life for good.
Before Kashyap spotted her on the set of Ukranian film-maker Dar Gai’s multilingual title Teen Aur Aadha (releases this month), the 27-year-old had spent most of her acting time on the stage. “Theatre helped me find myself. It taught me to open up and expose myself,” she says.
Now, three films old, Hussain is gearing up for her “first real Hindi movie”. “My character Sunaina may be mute, but she is feisty and fearless too. She refuses to see herself as handicapped.” To play the part accurately, Hussain even attended sign language classes under the tutelage of Sangeeta Gala—who has worked on several Bollywood biggies that relied on sign language, such as Khamoshi (1996), Black (2005) and Barfi (2012).
In the film, though unable to speak, Sunaina is all fire and emotion, a perfect ambassador for our disparate times, rife as they are with conflict. And Hussain, who moved to Mumbai from Delhi a few years ago—where she studied humanities and business studies—echoes this sentiment: “India is largely patriarchal and sexist, and women are not always allowed to have the voice they should. With this film, we wanted to present two scenarios: what could happen if a girl is given opportunities, and on the flip side, what happens even if she isn’t—but takes them anyway?”