Chulpan Khamatova on Starring in Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes


Actress Chulpan Khamatova tells TV Drama about taking on the lead role in Russia Television and Radio’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, based on a best-selling novel and sold worldwide by Sovtelexport.

Known for her multifaceted acting performances as well as for her charity and social activities, Chulpan Khamatova has been awarded two State Prizes of the Russian Federation. Her latest project sees her portraying the lead role in Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes. The series, based on a novel of the same name, premiered on the Russia 1 channel this spring to resounding success. The novel is written by a young author from Tatarstan, Guzel Yakhina, inspired by her grandmother’s dramatic life. It became a bestseller, translated into 34 languages. The central character, Zuleikha, is a quiet and obedient Muslim wife, living with her abusive husband and tyrannical mother-in-law in a remote Tatar village in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. When her husband is murdered by soldiers for hiding grain, she is arrested and sent to Siberia. A dreadful trip to a place of exile, thousands of kilometers and a fierce winter kill many. In this severe wilderness, she begins to build a new life for herself and discovers an inner strength given by great love and endearment. The role proved dear to Khamatova, who is Tartar by ethnicity, as there were exiles among her ancestors, too.

TV DRAMA: Why do you think this series has resonated with viewers?
KHAMATOVA: Guzel Yakhina’s novel itself was a huge success. The book received tremendous feedback and everybody was anticipating its adaptation.

TV DRAMA: Why did you agree to play the role of Zuleikha? What impact did it have on you?
KHAMATOVA: It all started, of course, with the book—with the brilliant cinematographic novel by Guzel Yakhina, which made a striking impression on me. The story instantly engages you in characters’ fates, in the horror they had to go through. You feel their fear and pain. I really wanted to work on the role of Zuleikha, an immature girl, who is not really a girl anymore, but lives obeying someone else’s orders and doesn’t even think about her own destiny. I wanted to see how her journey can change. Zuleikha had to go through a terrifying ordeal, which was meant to break her, but in the end it enriched her. She gracefully made it through all the challenges and discovered new strength and power in herself, because she was surrounded by the high-spirited people.

TV DRAMA: Are there universal themes this story touches on?
KHAMATOVA: It is a human story, about a woman who finds her own voice. I think everybody will understand it. Actually, I think everybody should know what the human is capable of.

TV DRAMA: How do you balance your time as an actress, philanthropist and mother of three daughters?
KHAMATOVA: All these aspects constitute my life; one cannot simply exist without the other.

Russia Television and Radio’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes is a lead offering from Sovtelexport. The company says that Ekaterina: Pretenders and Godunov are also still in demand with buyers from around the world, as interest for dramas, both period and modern, continues to grow. The company is gearing up for increased activity from the market once the global health crisis subsides, and it is aiming to find benefits in downsides. Sovtelexport is working to preserve the connection with its established partners and discover new niches for distribution of its extensive multi-genre catalog, which has more than 500 titles and 3,000 hours. The current task is to change its content promotion strategy by using new communication channels, including online screenings, digital editions and online markets.