Huma Qureshi on Leila's success: I don't operate from a position of fear
In an exclusive interview with mid-day.com, Huma Qureshi gets candid about her perspective about mainstream cinema, web shows, box office numbers and many other things including her Netflix show, Leila, which is receiving a good response
Huma Qureshi comes across as a warm person, who is content with what she has created and achieved through her hard work and passion in the Hindi film industry. She gave a remarkable performance in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and attained a name for herself. The actress blew the audience's mind with her acting chops in the recently released Netflix web series, Leila. It's been a week since the show's release and it's still attracting positive reviews. In a freewheeling chat with mid-day.com, Huma Qureshi bares her heart about films, web series and box office numbers.
Excerpts from the interview:
What kind of response are you receiving for Leila?
I'm receiving extremely positive feedback and I am very happy that the show has generated a lot of positive conversation, which is always good for any work of art.
Were there any kind of apprehensions before taking up this show?
I wasn't apprehensive. It is a fictional show and a distorted world set in the future. I am a huge fan of series like Black Mirror. So, I always saw this as an Indian version of Balck Mirror, and it's really exciting to do something like that and I was excited to be a part of this project. The apprehension was that I knew it is going to be tough. When I read the script, I knew it was a physically demanding series. The locations were dusty, dirty and grimy. So, Deepa (Mehta) said that there is a no makeup policy on set and I would literally take 15 minutes to get ready. The other apprehension was also the fear that would I be able to pull it off? As the protagonist of the show...I've played the leading lady in movies but I've never had the responsibility of pulling the series on me. It's also not a 2 or 3-hour series, it's a 6-hours series. It's a journey about a mother wanting to find her daughter. In how many ways will you express grief, it can be a very repetitive emotion. So, that was the fear - how do you find new ways to express grief.
With a powerful female-centric show, how content do you feel?
I don't know if I feel content but I feel inspired. Sometimes when you play a character, you give a part of who you are but you also take something back. Playing Shalini has also transformed me in certain ways. Sometimes, when you are portraying a scene or doing something difficult - Shalini had to go through many terrible and disgusting and de-humanising things and despite that she manages to keep her humanity and dignity alive. I feel that playing her has rubbed off her strength on me. It sounds really strange but it's true. It's been a very transformative process as well for me as a person. So, I'm just very inspired in life and feel like there's nothing that I can't do.
When you began the show, did you feel connected to Shalini?
I did! On the surface, it looks very different that she's married, has a family and a child. And, I was discussing this with Deepa and I said, 'If I look at my life and everything I take for granted - the fact, that I am a working woman, pay all my bills and live alone, enjoy certain freedoms and so on. What if one fine day I wake up and everything is taken away from me or from anybody for that matter. How would you respond?' I found myself not to be responding in ways very dissimilar to Shalini.
If we see your trajectory, you've done diverse roles. Is that a conscious move or is it the fear of being typecast here?
I don't operate from a position of fear. Whenever I have actually operated from the position of fear, I think, it has never really worked out for me. I always believe that you should play from the front foot. I feel that even if you are out, you should get out from the front foot. As a performer, I want to take risks, I want to do all the things that other people are not doing because it excites me. It's not that I am trying to make a point, this is who I am.
Do you think Netflix has a wider reach than mainstream cinema?
Hundred per cent. Firstly, it has a wider reach in terms of numbers. Secondly, it's also about the liberty to say what you are going to say and how you want to say it. I think what happens in a conventional film-format, you have to alter the way you want to tell a story so that you fit it into the package of a commercial/non-commercial film. With Netflix, those boundaries are not there. You can actually express yourself freely and tell the story the way it is ought to be told.
Is there a dearth of stories and opportunities in the mainstream film industry?
There's no dearth of stories there. I think there is a dearth of money and the right money being put in there to make the right stories, which come to life.
Huma Qureshi shared this picture on her Instagram account
Do you also think that there aren't many opportunities for women after crossing a certain age in the Hindi film industry?
I feel that more and more women should be in producing and be seen as the makers of their own destiny as opposed to waiting for the phone call to ring and someone to hire you. The reason why I say that is because, in traditional story-telling, women are always cast for how they look and how pretty they are but never about what they can bring to the table. And, I think the new age of story-telling that is happening even in films, the focus is more about the performances and the fact that you can be the hero of your story, and you don't always have to be rescued.
Bollywood has entirely become about the box Office numbers. Does it affect you or has made you more conscious while choosing your script?
I don't understand the whole hullabaloo around the box office numbers of the film. Are you going to get that money? Suddenly, my gatekeeper also says, 'Arre, Madam yeh film ne 100 crore kamaa li', and I respond saying, 'Oh! aapko kitna mila?' (How much did you get from that amount) Instead ask, 'Did you watch the film? Did you like the film?' I think that has really gone out of the window. I find it very amusing that in a poor country like us we are interested in knowing how much money somebody else is making.
Whatever said and done, box office numbers have become an integral part of the trends and does that result as an added pressure on the actors before taking up any film?
I don't care about the box office numbers. It's the producers' problem to see how much money he has put in and how much he has to recover. It's not my job as an audience or a journalist to say that the film has collected an X amount of money. Box office numbers are not proof that this must be a good film.
What other projects are you working on?
I'm doing a film called Army of The Death, which is also a Netflix film.
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