Zoya Hussain talks to Titas Chowdhury about her recent release, Laal Kaptaan, working with Saif Ali Khan and her love for history
Laal Kaptaan is set in a certain era and that required your mannerisms to be a certain way. What was the reference point for your character?
I am a huge history buff. Each generation or era has a certain pace of things and brings with it a certain body language and a certain way of speaking. I find anything historical or from another time period really attractive and interesting. We do not get to belong to different time periods in our films that much. I have romanticised the bygone era a little in my mind because the grass is always greener on the other side. Hence, the character that I play in Laal Kaptaan was really interesting for me. I had seen a lot of stuff from before, which served as a reference. My character had a certain poise and way of moving. Navdeep (Singh) gave me a few movies to watch to get into the mood, get the vibe and understand the character.
There is a whole lot of mystery surrounding Naga Sadhus. Were you aware of their community before doing the film?
Yes, I was aware. They live by a certain kind of module and code of conduct. They believe in brotherhood and togetherness. And it existed even more so at the time during which the film is set. Back then, men went to war and women stayed back at home. Everybody occupied the roles they had to play in order to survive, move forward and live. In this film, you get to see a lot of the Naga Sadhus, especially this particular Naga Sadhu which is Saif’s (Ali Khan) character. What happens with him and how he fits into the whole scheme of things will be revealed in the film. (Smiles)
Laal Kaptaan is Saif Ali Khan’s film as he plays the titular character. When you read the script, what scope did you see for yourself in it?
He, of course, is the protagonist in the film. And I am the female protagonist in the film. When I read the script, it was so interesting. And I really wanted to work with Navdeep. My character was the only big female part in the film and so there was so much scope to perform. And to be in a historical film and to be able to play a strong and bold character with so much duality drew me to it. And that’s the mystery surrounding my character. Why she is the way she is? Who is she? She appears to be a widow, but is she one really? Even though the film is shrouded in so much mystery, when it actually starts, the story begins unfolding. It is not a film that keeps you hanging until the end. When the film starts, you soon come to know who is who, what they want, why they want it and what they are willing to do to get what they want.
How was it working with Saif Ali Khan? He is known to be very intelligent and sharp.
He is so much fun! He is an encyclopaedia of books and music. He truly knows everything. He is not very guarded and he is not all about himself. And when you are spending so much time together on a film set, especially a film set like this which is mostly about outdoor shoots, you do end up hanging out, chatting and having fun. Since I was the newest person in the cast, I only had things to learn from everybody.
You have made rather unconventional choices as an actor. What drives them?
I just like to tell stories. I think it is foolish to take up a project based on how big or small your part is. Sometimes you will have a big part and sometimes you will not. What matters is how much your part fits into the larger scheme of things. It is about being part of a good film or a good script with great dialogues, getting along with your colleagues and having a good director. These are the things that are important. Laal Kaptaan was so interesting and so different that there was nothing else that needed to convince me.
You hail from Delhi and do not belong to a film family. Were films always your passion and acting always on the cards?
Since I can remember, acting is all I have done. I have a theatre background. Everybody in my family is from boarding school. So the mentality there is that you need to have hobbies, you need to know how to play an instrument and you need to know how to play a sport. I used to play the metal flute and a lot of sports. I was an outdoor person because we were brought up like that. As I figured out where my interest actually lies, I ended up doing theatre a lot more than music and moving to Bombay seemed like a natural progression of things. I did not know how and where I would end up but I had to give it a shot.
You are someone who likes staying away from the limelight. Is that by choice?
No! Until Mukkabaaz came out, I really lived under a rock. (Chuckles) I did not have too much know-how and I still do not know much about the industry and how to navigate through things. I am doing the best that I can. I am very grateful to have the opportunities that I have and I really appreciate the people who have chosen to work with me and are working with me including my team. I am sure I do not make their job any easier because of the way that I am. But now I am like an extroverted introvert. (Laughs)
You have your plate full. There is Haathi Mere Saathi and a film with Sanjay Leela Bhansali…
I don’t know. (Smiles)
So what is in the pipeline?
I am doing a bunch of stuff. I have been really lucky that I got great work after Mukkabaaz. I thought I would be sitting at home for two years because you do not get offers so fast! I am super grateful that I have been able to keep working. Now I am at that point where things are done and they are going to be releasing slowly. I am looking forward to them. (Smiles)