Huma Qureshi: Living out her dream

The reason why one feels like rooting for Huma Qureshi is that she seems like just one of us. One of us who is living out her dream, doing good work, and still able to maintain a very straightforward, human perspective, which makes her a pleasure to interview. When I saw Leila, I knew Huma had entered a different dimension of acting, but I had always liked her work. This time when we got chatting on the phone, we talked about Leila, keeping sane in the industry, and looking back at her journey so far.

I want to congratulate you on Leila – it is fantastic, it is brilliant. The last time we spoke, you said that you there wasn’t anything you could do that would be expected. But you also said that audiences would not expect this from me, but you’ve always said don’t expect the expected. So what did you mean by that?

(Chuckles) I mean honestly I don’t remember saying that but I’m sure I’ve said that. I’m an actor filled with contradictions so you can find me contradicting myself a number of times (chuckles). But no, like I said, the genres I do, I am generally pushing myself and challenging myself a lot. And, to do a role like Leila and to be given that opportunity, I would obviously grab that opportunity with my hands. I’m so glad that you enjoyed watching it, because while it was a challenge, I enjoyed being a part of it.

You talk about the fact that there is no layer between you and the audience. It is very raw, very real, the image you are portraying. In today’s day and age, with the kind of entourage that comes with many celebrities, which includes a vanity van filled with a stylist, a make-up artist, a manager, is that intimidating to be without a layer?

It is a bit intimidating, to be honest. I was extremely nervous. There is no sheen. You are probably not looking your best for every shot. Your face is magnified; it is blown up. It is such a large scale, but you know, every actor looks for that one role, that one character that is memorable. I knew looking at this script that the role would give me a platform and an opportunity like that. 

I could either chicken out or go full throttle. To be honest I completely believe in Deepa and I knew she would take me outside of my comfort zone, which she did. It is so special, my relationship with her and working with her. I think it is one of my most cherished actor-director, mentor, friend relationship that I have ever had in my life.

Deepa Mehta has always been well-known, nationally and internationally. How does she help you and how do you place yourself in the world of Leila, which is a dystopian world? It is set in a world that is completely outside of one’s imagination. How do you make that world real for yourself as a person and then as an actor

That’s my job, isn’t it? (Chuckles). As an actor, my job is imagination. It is to think about how a character is played, what their thought process is, it could be a place. As an actor, it is my job to employ my imagination, my mind, my body, my space to the best of my abilities to extend who I am as a person and become someone else.

I think that process changes a little bit, based on the character that I am playing. It depends on what I’m saying through it – it could be many things. For example, Leila was more about her eyes. In my head, Shalini (Character in Leila) could not really speak – so for me, it was about how I show her plight, how I show her strength. So I focused a lot on my eyes and showing my emotions through them. For other roles, it could be quite different. 

When you are in a space as an actor, in which your character is so beaten up, do you take that back with you as a person?

No, no, not really. I just look at my profession as a job. I can forget that pain and I can go home and spend time with my family and my friends. I’m not one of those people who has difficulty leaving my character on set. I know there are such things as method acting, but there can be a lot of “mumbo jumbo” around that so, (chuckles), I can just let it go.

Irrfan Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have both said, in one way or the other, that they are not sure if they are themselves as persons or if they have become an amalgamation of the different perspectives they have experienced through films. When you look back at who you were before you started your career, and who you are today, do you think your perspective has changed? Who is Huma today?

Hmm…I think I have changed as a person, I think Huma has changed. I mean, I completely agree with that thought that, every few years, I will do a film or a project, or because I’m constantly bombarded with so many things, and ideas, and people, that, I have changed. I could be against one thing but an experience can happen, can completely change your mind, or at least, leave a mark on you. 

In a way, it is scary. Like, in one life, I can be so many, and completely different people. 

Has there been that one character that has stayed with you?

I think, honestly, Shalini has impacted me. I think, looking at her, it was her strength that got to me. That is also what people noticed about her. I think I have become stronger. Through playing her, I think I saw how strength can be portrayed in a silent way. As a person, I am very upfront with my feelings, what I’m going through. But I think, playing Shalini, changed something inside me. Shalini taught me a different way to express myself. And that’s beautiful.

When you look at what an actor’s job has become today, it is not just acting. You have rehearsals, blocking, marketing, social media. In order to keep sane, what do you do? Or is it just a day to day thing to make sure your mental well being is intact?

Hmm…I sleep, I read, I travel. I have a lot many things in my life besides acting. Acting is not the only thing I do. I have lots of friends outside of the business. I think if you have the ability to switch on and switch off, it is easier. But if you bring your work back home, then it is a lot more difficult.

When you look back at your journey, has there been one moment that has defined for you that you are living out this larger than life life? A fan interaction, a scene, a moment…

Ohh, every single time. I don’t think there is ever time that I don’t think about where I am in my career. Sometimes, I feel like pinching myself. Today, I look back and think about the directors and actors I have worked with, some of whom I grew up watching myself. To be a part of movies and this world, coming from a middle-class family, like an outsider, it really is a dream come true. So whenever I’m having a tough day, I say and remind myself that this is my princess moment. That brings me a lot of joy and a lot of strength. 


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Armin Sethi

Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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