These are exciting times for in-demand actress Huma Qureshi.
She is on the wish list of producers looking for a leading lady to take on a challenging role, and that is being perfectly illustrated with the interesting projects coming her way. The rising star just completed the shooting for a Bollywood remake of Hollywood horror film Oculus in the UK and has just commenced work on Gurinder Chadha’s next directorial venture The Viceroy’s House.
Eastern Eye caught up with the actress in London recently to talk about her action-packed time in Bollywood, changing face of cinema, future hopes, inspirations and more.
How do you look back on your time in cinema so far?
(Smiles) My time has been action packed, fun, educational and a lot of everything actually. I’m a non-film kid so for me, every day when I go out to shoot, do an interview or when I read a new script, it is like a whole new world opening up. Every experience is new.
I think it’s a very good time for somebody like me to be a part of the industry because cinema is changing and you have so many different things happening, where you have commercial movies meeting the so-called indie films. There’s lots of great content that has its heart in the right place.
Have you consciously made a point of being unpredictable with your roles?
(Laughs) Asjad, I think it’s just the kind of person I am. Nobody launched me, so it wasn’t like someone said ‘we have to give you a quintessential Bollywood launch’. So I have just basically made the best out of whatever choices were available to me. But I guess a part of who you are spills out onto your choices. I like surprising myself and my audience. I don’t want to do the same thing again and again because that would be just so boring.
Is finding good scripts your biggest challenge?
Not really. I think there are some very good filmmakers and interesting producers willing to back someone new out there. My career is a product of that. A new kind of thought is happening in India right now, because our audience is changing. They are open to watching films like Badlapur, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Piku and Queen – these are not your safe formulaic Bollywood films, but are sort of really genre-bending. So there is a lot of interesting content out there. I’m just glad to be in the middle of it.
You have worked with quite a few remarkable actors in a short space of time. Who has been your favourite?
(Smiles) All of them. Is Naseeruddin Shah my favourite, is it Madhuri Dixit, Rishi Kapoor or Nawazuddin Siddique? It’s difficult to choose because they are all so great. I have been very blessed to have worked with some of the best directors, technicians and actors in India. I am proud to call them my co-stars. I hope some of their magic rubs off on me, so when I stand with them people think, ‘she must also be good’.
Do you feel like you have to really raise your game acting alongside established names?
Absolutely. That has been the case from my very first film Gangs Of Wasseypur, which had like 300-odd actors in it. All of them were thespians. I was the youngest kid on the block on that film set. From that moment on, I knew that I just had to bring my A-game.
You are a really good actress, but does it bother you that being hot sometimes overshadows that talent?
(Laughs) Thank you. It’s nice to know that you are considered hot. What used to happen earlier is you could either be pretty or you could act. I’m talking in a very stereotypical way. But today I don’t think as an actress I should be apologetic about how I look – if I look good, bad or whatever. I can act, look good and be the whole package. I don’t think it is a case of either/or any more.
What kind of roles are you keen to do?
I am dying to do a comedy. I think I am quite a goofy, funny, clumsy, clutsy person in real life. I am not the straight, dramatic person like the kind of roles I have done. I would like to explore that. I don’t think people see the real me – I believe that is something which needs to be seen out there.
Tell us about the film that you have just shot in the UK?
It is a remake of Hollywood film Oculus. It’s a brother-sister story, and a psychological supernatural thriller, very dramatic and very interesting. The idea for us was to do a really good horror film. Unfortunately in India we have a history of some badly made, tacky, B-grade horror films. We wanted to create something world-class.
Horror is really picking up globally and finding a huge audience, and we believe that kind of audience exists in India as well. We want to tap into that market and make an A-grade horror film people and families can watch together and get spooked.
You are starring alongside your brother Saqib Saleem in the Oculus remake. What was it like to act with a sibling?
It’s fun and it is taxing, I have to admit, because he know too much about me. If your co-star knows you too well, he always has an extra card up his sleeve. But with Saqib, it was like acting opposite any other co-star because both of us gave each other our space. Normally when you do a film, you want to hang out with your co-star and other cast members, but in this case, it was the reverse. We finished filming and it was like, ‘now you do your thing, I will do mine. Let’s give each other time to process whatever is going on’.
I’m guessing then that this film has a lot of shocking moments?
Lots. I can’t tell you about it because we have just finished filming and it will be out early next year. I don’t want to kill all the surprises we have, but there are a lot of them.
What do you like doing in London?
Shop. Now that filming is done, it is serious shopping time. I love London and just enjoy walking around discovering little cafes and music places. I have been here a couple of times. My parents are visiting for the first time, so I’m going to take them around. (Laughs) But yes, ultimately, I just want to shop.
What are some of your biggest passions away from work?
I am working all the time so what has happened is that my passion has become my work. I don’t come from a movie background, but films were a passion when I was growing up. Now that passion and hobby has become a full-blown profession. So anything I do sort of feeds into that passion. If I am reading something or watching a play, I think about how I would approach that if I was playing the character or if it was made into a movie. But I do like reading, which is a huge hobby. I like travelling, meeting new people and eating great food. Very average, very generic hobbies.
You are linked to a lot of projects, but which confirmed films do you have on the way?
Yes, I do get linked to projects. (Laughs) I guess they just want me to do all of them. But I can’t possibly be working on so many films. The one I can confirm is Gurinder Chadha’s movie The Viceroy’s House. I start filming that soon. That is a project I am very excited about because she is one of my absolute favourite filmmakers.
A lot of leading ladies were going for this role. You must feel good that you have landed it?
Yes, there was a lot of excitement about this project in the UK and India because Gurinder is making a film after a while and it’s a really good script. When Gurinder called to offer me the part, I was literally screaming on the phone for five minutes because I was so excited.
Big-name actors have been connected to this film. Who all have been confirmed?
I really can’t say. Gurinder and the production house are the best people to talk about it.
Do you believe this is your first step towards international cinema?
I think that is the future. Cinema has no boundaries today. You have really big Hollywood films that get as big a release as a movie by a Khan. Then you have a small Indian film like The Lunchbox doing so well internationally. I am glad that as an actor I can work in India and on international projects. (Smiles) I would love to work with Christopher Nolan one day, who knows.
Which leading man would you love to be romanced by on the big screen?
In India it has to be the three Khans. I have worked with Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan in commercials, when I was just a model and doing television ads. I would love to work with all three of them. Internationally, it would be Brad Pitt.
Why do you love cinema?
I love cinema because it is the one thing that has the ability to blow your mind with a moment or a scene or a story. It can make you believe in magic. Everything is so larger-than-life and so cool. It has the ability to take your everyday life and make it into something else. I love that about cinema. It’s so magical.
Finally, what inspires you?
People inspire me. Sometimes you sit in a cafe and look at people’s faces and think, that is a nice story. In London especially, when I just walk around, everyone has such a cool story going on – the way they dress, the way they move, the way they talk. So I observe people a lot. How they move, how they sit, what their gestures are like. I draw very heavily on the people I meet for my characters.