Turning author with Zeba: An Accidental Superhero, Huma on how she expanded on her idea of a fantasy fiction show to pen her first novel
Zeba, the sassy protagonist of Huma Qureshi’s debut novel, Zeba: An Accidental Superhero, reminds us of Kamala Khan from Ms Marvel (2022), the hijabi superhero being the common motif. When we share our thoughts with Qureshi, she says, “She is more Deadpool than Marvel, don’t you think?” Through Zeba, the first-time novelist tells a story about heroism, transformation and the indomitable human spirit in the face of adversity. Like its protagonist, the book itself had quite a transformation. “I had written it originally as a 10-page concept for a TV show. Everyone loved it, but [creating a] fantasy fiction show is expensive. When COVID hit and I had two years to kill, I went back to it. I then thought of [making it] as a comic book series, but when I sat down to write, each chapter came to me in the voice of a film character. That’s how the story evolved,” she recalls.
Qureshi launched the book this week
Qureshi has put her mother Aamna’s Kashmiri heritage in the novel that is set in a fictional place called Khudir. The actor-turned-novelist acknowledges that some of the material stemmed from her life experiences and how she views the world. “I’m not a trained novelist or screenplay writer. I’m an actor and trained to think like my characters. So, each chapter is about a character and their aspirations.” While Zeba is an unlikely hero whom you root for, Qureshi was tested when creating the character of Khan, a despot. “He is so different from my being that it was challenging to write him. I remember reading an interview about how an actor in Django Unchained  had to spit on his co-star’s face and couldn’t bring himself to do so. But he had to do it to make a larger point. Similarly, I wrote Khan to understand how a dictator’s mind works.”
Working with the best minds in the industry has only honed her imagination and storytelling prowess. “Filmmakers like Deepa Mehta, Vasan Bala, Anurag Kashyap, Subhash Kapoor and Sriram Raghavan have had an influence. I’ve learnt so much from how they explain the character and then execute it from script to screen. These learnings pushed me further.” So, what’s the next step? Will we see a movie on Zeba soon? “Inshallah,” smiles Qureshi. “I’m apparently the first working [Bollywood] actor to publish a novel. I would’ve loved to see a film like Zeba, but no one wrote it. So, I had to write it for myself.”