It’s not easy to be without work for almost four years. Zoya Hussain, now riding high on the success of Grahan—a web series on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in which she plays a cop—recalls her struggle trying to make it as an actor in Mumbai. “I was lucky that my parents supported me financially and I had some savings too. I would return to Delhi from time to time to do some theatre. Fortunately, I could keep exercising my creative muscles. If I wasn’t acting, I would write a script,” she says. Hussain believes that it is important to interact with people in the “same boat as you because they are your community and your sense of security”.
Grahan has been sort of an emotional rollercoaster ride for Hussain. There were days, when she admits, “I could let go, but some where I simply couldn’t”. Since the story deals with genocide and exodus, with people constantly being caught in the crossfire it was a heavy subject for the cast and crew. “The sensitivity of the subject made it extremely important for me to deliver. I gave it everything I had. Plus, my character was living two parts—a cop and a daughter—both dealing with the trauma in their own way. Balancing the demands of these roles was tough,” she remembers. Hussain admits that living a character for a long time means one can’t fake it or let the tempo drop, “because the audience is living it with you. I was very clear that my role as Amrita had to be the vessel of the story because everything is seen through her eyes. She’s hassled but she’s also a normal person, and that had to be brought out. I was adamant that the character should not become a caricature of a female cop or be relegated to a woman empowerment project,” she says emphatically.
Mumbai sees a horde of talented hopefuls enter the entertainment industry every year, and Hussain was no exception. Creatively inclined from a young age, she chose the theatre to express herself. After graduating from college in 2011, she was offered a film that went on to becoming a hit. “I don’t want to talk about it, but I turned it down because I had my college finals, and completing my education was important to me,” she shrugs. But it gave her the hope and confidence to stick it out in the industry through numerous auditions and rejections. When she bagged her first film—Mukkabaaz (2018) directed by Anurag Kashyap—Hussain realised that she had the perfect role. “I had refused a lot of work because I didn’t want to be an accessory. With Mukkabaaz, things started falling in place and everyone, including my parents, took me more seriously,” smiles the actor.
Being taken seriously by her director is a special high. Hussain received high praise from Kashyap who compared her to Nawazuddin Siddiqui, “Zoya is like Nawazuddin. The moment you put him in front of a camera, he takes on a completely different note.” Looks like the film industry and the audience are in for some brilliant Hussain moments on screen.