Huma Qureshi is on a delightful high at this moment. Her performance in ‘Badlapur’ has won appreciation. And her choice to choose wisely has paid off. An actor who refreshingly and honestly praises her contemporaries (complimenting Kangana Ranaut, Rani Mukerji, Mary Kom Pee Cee and Anushka Sharma in ‘NH10’), here she tells Pinkvilla why she chooses to act in films and conduct her film career on her terms.
You stayed away from promotions of ‘Badlapur’. But after its release, everyone has appreciated your performance. Did you consciously take a decision to stay away from promoting it? Did you want your work to do the talking?
It was a conscious move to stay away from promotions. The film’s team was aware of it. In the film, my character Jimlee is a sex worker. Like everybody else in the film, she is trapped between these two men. Even as the good guy becomes evil and the bad guy ends up endearing himself towards the end, she gets churned in the middle. When two men or even two countries fight, the weakest – women and children – often end up getting caught between the two warring parties.
Plus I am playing a sex worker and there’s no love lost for sex workers in society at large. I wanted people to really feel for my character, to empathize with her and what she goes through. What normally happens during promotional events is that you often get asked – so are you playing a sex worker? How many bold scenes do you have? You must have spicy scenes in the film. It goes down that route. And we consciously stayed away from that.
Sriram Raghavan was very clear even when we made the film that the scenes my character is in, are not meant to titillate. They are meant to disturb you. That’s also a decision that I have very consciously taken as an actor. I never am someone’s arm candy. I am delivering a performance here. So I did want people to see the performance for what it is.
In the film, your character is battered, abused and yet she survives, typical to most sex workers. And there is a difficult scene that you perform with Varun that was hard to watch. It must have tough to do.
It WAS very tough to do. It was very difficult for both of us. We didn’t know how it would be received. It was a disturbing scene. It’s about (pauses)
It’s about violation…
It is about non-consensual violation of a woman. Especially in a time like today, where you are so aware and so vocal about what’s happening to women, we are showing something like this. So we had to work on how to show it in a manner that it doesn’t get perceived in a wrong manner. It is not a masala thing added for shock value.
And as actors I think it’s a very brave scene to be attempted by us at this stage. Sriram has done a marvelous job of that scene. So many people, actors, directors and regular people, have called to say how bad they felt for my character and how some even literally wept, when this scene plays out. And I think that for me is really important. For me, when I played Jimlee, all I wanted was that people take a bit of me when they leave the theatre with them.
I felt that amidst all five female actors, your character and Radhika Apte’s character stand out.
She’s lovely! What an actor! She’s very good; you don’t take your eyes off her face! She has that effect on you.
When a film like ‘Badlapur’ hits theaters you must feel vindicated for you always look for quality roles. Are they easy to come by? Are you selective by choice?
I have been accused of being selective earlier (laughs). You’re not the first one!
I get a mix of both quality roles and other roles too, to be honest. I want to try everything. A lot of people ask me, ‘what kind of work are you looking for?’ Then I say that I am looking for something interesting. So the new term that I have coined is, that I am looking for ‘interesting mainstream’! (laughs).
As an actor I want to entertain the audience. I don’t like boring films that you end up thinking that when does this get over? But at the same time, it needs to have something to do. I can’t be just in a film for the sake of it. I can’t ever be part of the landscape.
Lemme clear these- are you part of Aishwarya’s come back film, ‘Jazbaa’?
I am not in ‘Jazbaa’. The director of the film, Sanjay Gupta is making another film after ‘Jazbaa’ and I am part of that.
Are you working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui again in ‘Ghoom Ketu’?
No. I am not in that film either.
But you’re working in a horror film right?
I am working in the official remake of ‘Occulus’- the Hollywood film. It’s producers, Relativity Media, are making the film here in India. It’s a brother sister film. Saqib and I are working in it together.
That must be fun – do you see a lot of each other?
We live together (smiles). So by default we see each other a lot! He’s like my best friend and the only family I have in Mumbai. He is like my go to person, my girlfriend (laughs) and that friend whose gym tee shirt I steal when all of mine are filthy and are in the laundry! He doesn’t like it much, but that’s just how it is.
Be it the Femina cover where you consciously positioned yourself against a body image stereotype, or the link ups reported around you (director Abhishek Chaubey and Anurag Kashyap), you’ve gotten your fair share of attention – negative and otherwise. In a competitive and demanding world like cinema, how do you manage to stay sane?
How do you know I am sane (smiles). I’ve had my fair share of everything yes. I suppose I just speak my mind, do the work that I want to do and hang out with people that I want to hang out with. I have fun in doing this. I am not here to prove anything to anyone or to further a legacy. I don’t understand half of it!
I like the people I work with and I have great friends who support me and make fun of me in equal measure. That is important. I come from a family that is so non-filmy that half the time they don’t even recognize half the co-stars I work with; which is also a relief in itself. Finally over the last three years, I have managed to build a team for myself who supports me in whatever I want to do – everything to say, my fashion choices, or the kind of films or endorsements I choose, or even the restaurants that I want to get a table for!
I guess I am just finding my feet. I call myself a Work In Progress. I am just trying to better myself. I am not in competition in anyone, and I don’t aspire to read somewhere that I am Numero something!
I am glad that I come across as a secure person because it is a heady profession. It’s a crazy profession where some people are doing certain things to harm me, or say things or spread speculative stories to discredit me. It maybe comes from their insecurities. I don’t really know but I am just here to have fun.
You just mentioned three years in films and you’ve already worked with some filmmakers that many actresses have on their wish list – Anurag Kashyap and Sriram Raghavan. Which are the other filmmakers that you’d like to work with?
I would love to work with Rajkumar Hirani, Karan Johar and Farah Khan. There are many more. And these are all hard core commercial directors, and I want to keep doing such good work that they cast me someday! Whenever I see a good promo or film, I get excited and think that wish I were part of that film myself. So while I’ve come a long way in three years, I have a long way to go & I am willing to work hard. Must hard work to do well!