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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

Huma Qureshi: Bollywood's 'Ms Unconventional'

Whether you're a veteran diva making a comeback, a model making the transition to acting or an industry newcomer taking your first baby steps, Bollywood actresses rarely do 'risky' or 'unconventional'.  

Huma Qureshi though, doesn't do 'safe' or 'conventional'.  

Take her first role for example: a slightly passe, Bollywood-loving, Ray Ban-wearing gangster's lover in an incredibly tense, often gruesome, 7-HOUR epic by Bollywood's most unconventional filmmaker.  

Having burst on to the scene as the uber-cool 'Mohsina' in Anurag Kashyap's 'Gangs of Wasseypur', Qureshi is the flavour of the year.  Her CV - barely 5 films long - is wonderfully eclectic and is testament to her approach as an actor, an approach based on variety and challenging oneself.  

After the heady days of 'Gangs', she's already done a psychological thriller, an item number for a Michael Winterbottom film whilst also gearing up to play the female lead in a Bollywood film about notorious gangster Dawood Ibrahim.  

Born in July 1986, Qureshi's background doesn't exactly suggest 'quirky'; a word all-too-frequently used to describe this beauty.  Qureshi hails from the posh Greater Kailash colony of Delhi.  Her father is a successful businessman and mother a homemaker.  A bright student, Qureshi made a careful step into the world of acting - after careful deliberation with parents - beginning with theatre and commercials before making the transition to the big screen, courtesy of the eagle-eyed Anurag Kashyap.  

After the drama and intensity of 'Gangs of Wasseypur', she's moved to the other end of the film spectrum to play a fun-loving Punjabi girl in Sameer Sharma's 'Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana', described as India's first 'Foodie Film'.  

The UKAsian caught up with the actress to talk acting and Muslim actresses…

People are raving about your film choices: going from 'Gangs' to 'Luv Shuv…'  Did you make a conscious decision to do a slightly more fun film for your second role?
It wasn't intentional but I'm glad it's happened that way.  Gangs was quite intense and 'Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana' is a real feel good family film.  There's romance and there is a very traditional feel to the film and of course, because it's set in the Punjab there's some amazing music and dancing and just general madness.  I'd be lying if I said it was a conscious decision to pick up this film after 'Gangs'.  What has been a conscious decision is to pick interesting scripts and maintain a hunger to work with good directors.  The roles then kind of fall into place.

Anurag Kashyap's featured quite prominently in your career so far…
I was actually shooting a commercial with Anurag some time back and he had told me during the shoot that he wanted to include me in his next film.  I was thrilled to bits but I wasn't sure if he was serious.   But he was.  He was involved as a producer on 'Luve Shuv…' and he is equally brilliant in both roles which is great not just for me as a new actor but also for the filmmaker because this is Sameer Sharma's  first film and although he's been around for a while as a writer for the likes of Aditya Chopra and Ram Gopal Varma it's always amazing to have someone like Anurag behind you.  He allows the director to make the film he wants to make and tell the story that he wants to tell with the actors that he wants to work with.  That's a big compliment to Anurag because not a lot of directors can be good producers because a director's inherent need to run things according to the way he sees a story.

You've already had a special mention for your performance in 'Gangs' at an international film festival, the offers are pouring in, what's the adulation been like on a personal level?
It's been really heavy to be honest.  I was thinking the other day when I go to a ceremony of some kind you get people shouting your name, clamouring for autographs, you see yourself referred to on Twitter so it's very heavy and very special at the same time.  People want to interview, hear your thoughts on various things; my mother finds it hilarious!  She's like, "What's wrong with the world?!!  Why does everyone want to hear what you think?!"  You finally feel that you are doing something right and that gives you a lot of self-confidence.  I still think that my work should speak for itself and ultimately that’s just what I want to be remembered for.  The world of films has always fascinated me.  I just never knew how to go about it when I was growing up.  I kind of went my own way exploring acting by first trying theatre, I moved to Mumbai, I did ads before meeting Anurag which was a huge stroke of luck.   I guess the love and attention you get and of course the perks!  For example I come from an acting and performing background and I get invites to fashion shows and all these cool places and events that you always wanted to be a part of.  The downside is that sometimes it can get very stressful.  I remember a month after 'Gangs of Wasseypur', I was really unwell and I just couldn't deal with th e constant travelling and promotional commitments and living out of a suitcase.  Plus I was filming for Ekta Kapoor's 'Ek Thi Dayan' so I was utterly exhausted.  There are only so many hours in a day.  But the fact is, whether it's acting or promotional work, you need to love your work and love your work and part of the job is sacrificing a lot, especially time with your family.  It eventually compensates you immensely so you need to keep at it.  

People have also compared you to Raveena Tandon!
I don't get the similarity to be honest.  I think she is a really stunning woman but I have heard everything from Raveena Tandon to Madhubala to Madhuri Dixit and they are gorgeous women and I wake up every day thinking "Wow, people see these legends in me but I don't see a resemblance at all!"

Muslim actresses are very few and far between these days.  In fact, you're probably the only mainstream actress.  Does background play a part in the business do you think?
I don't think religion plays a part at all in the business.  I could be Muslim or Brahmin or Christian or whatever , but I don't think your background makes any difference.   I admit there is a dearth of Muslim actresses but I don't think it's deliberate on anyone's part, it's something that's happened.  We've had some amazing actresses and musicians in the past and I think there will be in the future as well.  I don't think I'm here to reverse any trend; I'm here because I love my craft and I want to be a part of this world.  The industry has welcomed me without any bias or prejudice.  I don't think that anyone ever gave any thought to my name or religion before casting me.  What has always mattered is whether I can play a character well enough.  I think our directors, writers, producers and even our audience are far more intelligently evolved to allow questions of background to affect their choices.

You're from a very middle-class New Delhi background.  What were your parents' reaction to you entering films and how are they looking at it now that you've really hit the big time?
My family was very apprehensive just like any family would be, when I joined the movies.  They were very picky at the beginning.  My father is a restaurateur and my mom is a housewife and they were very worried about me.  My family were even worried about me going out after dark!  They had heard all sorts of stories about Bollywood.  But they are rational people so we had a proper discussion about my career options and I did have a lot of convincing to do.  My father initially told me that I could give acting a shot for a year-and-a-half.  He didn't want his kids struggling financially and be unhappy.  I had a lot of convincing to do of course before he gave me the permission to give it a go.  I'm glad he did because things did work out and now they come and visit me in Bombay and meet and interact with all the people I work with whether it be my cast, my directors.  

'Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana' is in theatres November 02.

- Poonam Joshi

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