Huma Qureshi is that rare actor who actually admits her complete fascination with the world of make-believe. She doesn’t say “somebody sent my portfolio to such and such producer/director” or “it’s not something I had planned, it just happened”. On the contrary, she says very candidly, “That’s all I was ever interested in. I would watch whatever movies I could.” From the countless films she watched as a child, two stood out—Sholay and Jurassic Park. “We watched them in a loop on the VHS player we had as kids until the cassettes wore out. I was awed by those huge lizards and always wondered how films were made.” Doing plays in college was simply a step in the direction that brought her to where she is today.
Theatre and modelling assignments followed and then, inevitably, as is the case with many a star, she caught the eye of a director—the king of noir and new-age cinema, Anurag Kashyap. She made her debut in his Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), which was widely acclaimed. Excited and yet full of nerves, she delivered more than a creditable performance, one that landed her a Filmfare Award nomination for best actress in a supporting role and best female debut in the popular category. Getting the accent of a small town Bihari right was not a problem for this debutante. “I’ve always been good at mimicking. If I sit with you for a bit I can soon begin to sound like you!”
I could love a man who sees beyond the make-up and the pretty face and if I’m smelling nice or not.
Since that first ‘non masala’ role, she has done others. “I don’t think like that. What is offbeat today? Isn’t that what the audience wants now? There’s been a shift, an openness to all kinds of content. I get drawn to a script.” After doing a tough but meaty role in her first film, however small, set the standard for what was to follow. “‘Gangs’ set the bar high for me. Badlapur (2015) was a challenge and Dedh Ishqiya (2014), too.” Both of which also won her nominations for awards. Getting under the skin of a character could be triggered off by anything. In Gangs it was the fake Ray-Ban that she had to wear which set the tone for the character. Before that, she had been unsure about how to play the character of Mohsina.
Awards are the ultimate acknowledgement of a job well done. When a career starts with nominations and awards (Stardust Awards Breakthrough Supporting Performance and South Asian Rising Star Film Awards for Best Supporting Actress), the next logical achievement is then in the attitude. “Life after getting awards is about making more money and getting more films,” she says with a laugh. “It’s really about being able to pick and choose the films you want to do. Before that, you mostly have to make to do with what you get.” As with anyone creative and dissatisfied with what is offered, her long-term goal is to make content and support “all the good stuff around me. Yes, produce films.”
While her father, who owns and runs the restaurant chain called Saleem in Delhi, was not so excited about the idea of her stepping into films, he didn’t object when he saw where her heart lay. “His concern was for my future as this is a notoriously unstable life. For that reason, he wanted me to do something in academics like an MBA; something solid.”
Coming from a background where food is the business, and that too Mughlai food with its heavy curries, the battle for weight issues is not surprising. As with most people the spin is on health. Fitness is important, as is the common way to discuss the subject. “No I don’t have body issues,” she disclaims. But, she is very careful about her diet, sticking to mostly salads and greens. Huma’s tips for being healthy are to stay away from sugar, soda, gluten, preservatives and alcohol. Coming from a family of restaurateurs, it’s not surprising that she’s happiest making up recipes and rustling up a meal for herself. Despite facing flak for her sense of dress, she walked the ramp recently for designer Rina Dhaka at the India Couture Week (ICW 2017).
Her choice of films and directors is eclectic and her impressions of them insightful. Teaming up with her brother Saqib for Dobaara: See your Evil, in the bone-chilling official adaptation of Oculus, she feels it’s time for good family entertainment in the horror genre. She could be poised for a big takeoff now that she is playing a key role in the Rajinikanth-starrer, Kaala Karikaalan, making her debut in Tamil cinema.
“I try and work with great directors,” she says. Gurinder Chadha directed her in A Viceroy’s House, a cinematic interpretation of the partition with dollops of creative licence. “She’s passionate and rather like an overwhelming force of nature. It was something new for me to see a woman handle such a diverse cast of actors. And then, in the middle of the chaos, she would go off to tend to her kids for a bit, come back and plunge right back into action. The guy with the most amazing sense of humour is Subhash Kapoor, who directed me in Jolly LLB 2 (2017). Sriram Raghavan (Badlapur) makes the most honest films with a rare sincerity and for the purest reasons.”
Gangs of Wasseypur continues to hold a special place in her heart, as does the film’s director. The association remains and she controls her expression trying not to gush. “You know...first movie, first director. He’s the man who sort of introduced a particular genre to our industry. Noir, new-age films that are associated with him. He has a connect to the heartland as few others do.”
Why should we look at marriage as a mere institution? Surely, it’s more than that?
Wary of personal questions, she admits marriage is more than a mere institution for her, even though it is not on the cards now. “My yardstick is my parents’ marriage and the family together, siblings and cousins and all that. Why should we look at it as a mere institution? Surely, it’s more than that?” Unwilling to talk about her personal life, she confesses when prodded that she could love a man who “sees beyond the make-up and the pretty face and if I’m smelling nice or not; someone who can tell me honestly that I’m the most attractive girl in the world even when I’m feeling down and out. Ideally, he should be able to recite the most amazing poetry and be able to watch TV with me, get bored with me. But, more than anything, he should provide stability.”
Words that describe you: I wish I could say something amazing and poetic, but I’ll settle for lioness.
What makes you feel sexy: A blow-dry
As a person: I’m emotional
I like the smell of: Love Story by Chloe
Most stylish person in Bollywood: Sonam Kapoor
Most stylish person in Hollywood: Can I say Priyanka Chopra?
Fashion is: Elegance
I love my: Tracks and tees
Style trick: Silhouette with a belt
Essentials: High heels, a great bag, jeans, a great black dress, a great black maxi
PHOTOS VINEET VASHISHT ❖ STYLING MEAGAN CONSESSIO ASSISTANT TO THE STYLIST SAACHI ❖ HAIR SHEFALI MAKE-UP AJAY ❖ TEXT RUKMA SALUJA ❖ LOCATION JW ❖ MARRIOTT MUMBAI SAHAR