WorldScreenings: Russia TV & Radio’s Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes


The debut novel of Guzel Yakhina, a young author from Tatarstan, quickly caught the attention of readers throughout Russia, becoming a bestseller in its home country. Translated into 34 languages, Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes has gone on to win multiple literary awards and capture hearts worldwide, and Russia Television and Radio has brought the story to TV in a series of the same name, which Sovtelexport is selling worldwide.

The TV adaptation recently wrapped its run in Russia to stellar ratings. “The premiere of Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes was a huge success,” says Julia Matyash, the director of Sovtelexport. “It became the best prime-time series aired in Russia from the beginning of 2020. By now, more than 36.5 million viewers have watched it on TV and more than 20 million on the internet.”

The story is inspired by the dramatic life of Yakhina’s own grandmother. It centers on Zuleikha, a quiet and obedient Muslim wife, who is 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 communist soldiers for hiding grain, she is arrested and sent to Siberia. Many of those with her on the horrendous six-month train journey to the place of exile don’t survive the first difficult winter. The remaining deportees are abandoned in the middle of nowhere. In this severe wilderness, she begins to build a new life for herself and discovers an inner strength aided by great love and support.

Zuleikha tells how to transform the challenge of the most miserable circumstances into power and winning,” says Matyash. “Forgiveness, devotion, love and truth make this weak woman so strong. Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes is a beautiful and magical story about the power of the human spirit based on real facts.”

The series is directed by Egor Anashkin and was filmed all over Russia—from Moscow and Kazan to Uralian landscapes and the Arkhangelsk region near the Arctic Circle. The village of Ulbash, where Zuleikha lives with her husband and mother-in-law, was depicted by the museum of Tatar culture, Tatar-Avili, in Tatarstan. The settlement of Semruk was built in the Laishevo region near the Kama River specifically for the shooting of this series, and it will soon be turned into a tourist attraction. Attention to detail was paramount in bringing the story to life, Matyash acknowledges, with a huge amount of props and clothing and belongings sourced from flea markets for added authenticity. The central character is portrayed by a popular Russian actress of Tatar origin, Chulpan Khamatova, who says this role had a personal significance to her: there were exiles among her ancestors, too.

“It’s an amazing story that creates a flood of emotions through the masterful director’s work and brilliant lead-actors’ performances,” Matyash says. “The unique settings and historically accurate re-creation of the world of the story make it a real adventure for the viewers. The success of the book showed the great value and appeal of the story all over the world. It resonates even more nowadays when people come to understand how drastically life can change, how hard sometimes it is to find the inner power to cope with the challenges imposed from the outside. This story gives the viewer power and belief that you can overcome everything and become even stronger.”

Matyash adds that Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes “perfectly complements” the company’s lineup of strong, high-quality, female-led series.

See Russia TV & Radio’s Spring 2020 Showcase here.