Huma Qureshi: I would rather be an actress with a personality than a hollow size zero

The Gangs of Wasseypur babe talks about her first action oriented role, acting alongside Rishi Kapoor and her curves

Huma Qureshi is an unconventional beauty. A terrific actor, as we have seen in her critically acclaimed films – Gangs of Wasseypur and Ek Thi Daayan, Huma has made her mark in a surprisingly short time in an industry starved of good female actors. At a stage in life where every movie choice she makes will count for making or breaking her career, Huma tells us how she lives on the edge, does drastically different kinds of roles and is happy in her skin. The pretty actor wants to carve her own path in an industry where conventional beauty means everything. Read this exclusive interview…

This has been a great year for you with four releases. How do you feel?

I feel a number of things at this stage. Happy, being one. A little excited too. But sometimes it is disorienting, so many things happening at one time. Living out of suitcases, running from movie promotion to the sets. But that is something I wanted to do, and I dreamed of it happening. And now it’s taking shape. And yes, this has been a very busy year. Fourth release. One more to go after this. Exciting times ahead!

But your films Gangs of Wasseypur and Ek Thi Daayan haven’t been commercial successes.

It’s unfair to compare films to each other. Different films are made on different budgets for different markets. You can’t compare my mother’s rajma chawal to your mother’s chicken! It is very unfair to compare. I think all the films I have been a part of have been interesting ones with an interesting cast. They have been films I am very proud of. As far as commercial success goes, they may have not been in the Rs 100 crore club but they haven’t lost money either. And a lot of films, eg, Ek Thi Daayan, was a complete experiment. So, some experiments do extremely well and others fare differently.

D-Day is an action thriller. How much of a challenge was it to play action sequences?

After D-Day I have decided that unless a very good film or a very good part like Zoya comes my way, I would really think hard of doing action again because it is very difficult. Because the physical difficulty in doing a part like this and shooting in the heat and trying to look all agent like, keeping the character in mind and not forgetting the lines – there is so much of synchronisation that happens when you’re doing an action film, and you don’t want to be the one who is messing it up! There are cars blowing up, guns firing, blasts going on, and you don’t want to mess up something because then the entire shot gets wasted. So that’s a very scary prospect… in every action sequence my heart was just pounding, ‘please God, let me not mess up what I’m supposed to do!’

You’ve worked with two brilliant actors – Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. How was it?

Well, Rishi Kapoor is my favourite co-star in the film. He is so much fun. He has great anecdotes and stories. He is very inspiring as well. Even today, when he dubs, there is so much passion and dedication with which he does that. At this stage in his career he is still so excited and childlike. And he doesn’t need to. He has been a superstar since his first film! With Irrfan, everybody is a fan of him. Just name his performances, and they have all been nice. As a co-star, it is very difficult to gauge him because he is full of surprises. You can never know how he is going to respond to what you’re saying or doing. And sometimes some real magic happens. There was one shot, Irrfan and I, and we didn’t speak before it. It was a very small scene where we are in a rickshaw and are traveling from point A to point B and something bad happens. I can’t say what, but we hadn’t decided what we would do. And at some point in that rickshaw ride I started crying and Irrfan just pacified me, and a very intense moment happened which none of us had planned! So with an actor like Irrfan, with everything he does, he manages to add a layer to it. Arjun (Rampal) is also so much fun to work with – one of the best looking men, a National Award winner, and the fittest actor of our times. In fact, he celebrated his 40th birthday on the sets and we had so much fun. I put up his picture on my BlackBerry Messenger and all my friends were like, he can’t be 40! And I was like, if I can look that cool at 40, I’ll be very happy.

Your brother Saqib Saleem is doing quite well for himself too, with a number of interesting roles to his credit. Do you both talk films?

Our house is a very interesting mix. I have people telling me that you’re this offbeat actor and your brother is a very mainstream Yash Raj boy, so that’s Indian cinema under the same roof, right there, right now! But yes, we both discuss a lot of movies. We like similar films. We have grown up watching similar films, so our sensibilities and our choices are same. In fact whenever he is stuck somewhere he comes to me, and when I am, I go to him. We both are very strong individuals with strong opinions so we make our own decisions, but it is always nice to have a bouncing board; someone you can trust. Also because he is family, he understands where we’re coming from, and if there is a lot of other pressure  on me, it’s nice to have him along.

Do you feel that your struggling period in Bollywood is over?

There are two ways to answer this question. First would be, I never struggled. And the second way is, the struggle is always on! Either you think that everything you do is a struggle, so the struggle will keep on going. Even today I have to struggle and get to the next level. Keep bettering myself. Maybe do a bigger film or something interesting and push the envelope. But another way to look is that this isn’t a struggle, it’s a learning period. And the next level will also be a learning period. So I’m just taking each day as it comes. Each film as it comes. So there is no grand scheme. I didn’t plan to do D-Day when I did Wasseypur. Nikhil also didn’t plan to make D-Day then. These are things you can’t possibly decide. In fact when I actually met Nikhil first, he narrated some other script to me. Then the second time I met him he narrated D-Day to me and asked which character I wanted to chose. I obviously chose Zoya Rehman ‘coz I could kill some bad guys while I was acting. (Smiles)

In most of your roles, you’ve showed a fascination towards grey characters?

Barring Ek Thi Daayan none of my characters have been negative. In fact, even Zoya in D-Day isn’t negative. She’s a patriot, in fact. She is someone who loves her country and is willing to do a lot of sacrifices in her personal life for a larger cause. She is a part of a guy team where she is the only girl. And she does go through very hostile territory to get back India’s most wanted man. But I didn’t think she is negative at all. Yes, there is a part where she questions the violence around her and all the sacrifices she has made for the greater good and whether that is worth it or not. But that’s a question we all face in life, no?

Since you’re at this stage where your career has taken off, have you ever thought about success going to your head?

I don’t know. I think I would like to not lose my sense of humour. A certain naivety that I have that my brother keeps telling me about, that I take people at face value; I never want to stop doing that no matter how successful or worldly wise I become. Because if you’re just too sorted in the head, you lose the magic of life. If you just know all the answers, you’re not willing to explore. So I hope I never lose that. But sometimes you do have to be practical. Because people think that just because you’re an actor, it is okay to ask you all sorts of questions and you have no privacy, no life. You don’t feel hurt and that you’re just a thing with no feelings and emotions. It’s not fair. Sometimes people send me random messages. Only yesterday someone sent me a message saying I knew you some three years back in Delhi and can you please get me a role in your movie? Randomly! I don’t even know who it was. Sometime it infringes your privacy. And if you tell people to back off they think it has gone to your head. Like, when I did Wasseypur, I had nothing else to do in life. I was just working on the movie. No one knew me then. I didn’t give any interviews. I didn’t have an event to go to or a ribbon to cut. But now I do, and people don’t realise that all that time I gave to my film and my work has been taken away by a lot of other things. So I need to protect that.

Gangs Of Wasseypur did garner a lot of critical acclaim. Do you feel the benchmark has been set too high?

That I knew when we were discussing the film. It’s a once in a lifetime film. It will always be a very special one. I will always be the Wasseypur girl. Even now, when I visit colleges and all, they always want to see me wear aviators. They always want me to do that permission scene. I’m like, it’s a six-hour movie and I was there for only 20 minutes, so good work me!

You have a pretty face but a fuller, unconventional figure. Are you scared the typical ‘heroine’ type glamorous roles won’t come your way?

Is that the only way you can become a heroine? I don’t understand. In GOW, in that small town, I was the prettiest girl. I was the most glamorous thing over there. In Ek Thi Daayan out of all the other women in the film, I was the heroine. So, I was the pretty girl. Yes, we may have certain ideas or notions about size zero and all. But today there are so many actresses who are curvier and they all are doing very well for themselves. And I believe that it’s high time we started looking at individual beautiful people rather than fit them into the same box. You can’t all look the same. And you shouldn’t look the same. If I look like any other actress then you can go ahead and cast any other actress. Why would you cast me? The idea is that if you’re casting me then I can do something that nobody else can do. There is certain uniqueness about me. So either you can think of it as a problem, or as an added advantage. And I don’t want to take names, but there are so many actresses today who are not size zero but they are very fine actresses, and they have huge followings. They have a personality. So I would rather be an actress with a personality than a hollow size zero. I don’t want to be a clothes hanger. I am an actress.