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ACTRESS HUMA QURESHI ON PORTRAYING A DETERMINED MOTHER IN GRIPPING DYSTOPIAN NETFLIX SERIES LEILA

by ASJAD NAZIR

Versatile actress Huma Qureshi has shown off her impressive range as a performer with film projects in diverse genres and recently expanded her horizons further with a lead role in new Netflix serial Leila.

The drama series, based on an acclaimed novel, is set in a dystopian future and revolves around a devoted mother looking for her missing young daughter in a totalitarian regime.
The brutal, brave and gripping six-part drama has received rave reviews since it was premiered worldwide on the streaming site last month.

The in-demand Indian actress has received praise right across the board for her challenging role in a first-of-its-kind serial to emerge from India.

Eastern Eye caught up with Huma to talk about her new Netflix serial, plans going forward and the biggest motivating factor.

Has the fact all your projects have been so different to each other been a conscious decision?
Well, I did not intend that all my projects should be different to each other and it wasn’t a conscious decision. But, I think, as a performer, I like to pick films, roles and characters that I haven’t done before. I feel I don’t want to repeat myself. I get bored very easily, so as an artist, I am also constantly looking to do different kinds of projects and roles. So that is a conscious choice. But there is no planning involved.

What did you most like about Leila?
It is the journey of a woman looking for her missing child. In the process, she finds herself and her inner power, which includes finding strength and despite all the oppression, retaining her humanity. She manages to hold on to her dignity as a person and never loses that.

Did you ever imagine being part of such a unique project like Leila when you started your acting journey?
I don’t know about being part of such a unique project, but I loved Netflix and it has completely ruined my social life. Throughout the night, I am binge-watching shows. I stopped going out and socialising. Netflix became like a new way to socialise. So for me, it has become like a dream come true to lead a show for the platform, which, in itself, is very exciting.

What was the biggest challenge of playing the role?
For me, it was the physicality. This project was physically exhausting, as I have done things I never did before and shot in some locations that I never thought were quite possible. For instance, we were shooting outside Delhi near GT Karnal Road, which is a really tough spot to shoot. It used to be a landfill that has now become a mountain of garbage, where you have communities living. Shooting in that particular location was extremely hard for me.

How does acting in a series compare to films?
Both the mediums cannot be really compared. Films and series are two very different ways of storytelling. But, when it comes to creative, discerning content, ‘digital TV’ is ruling the world over. You can sit and watch any show, telling an original story originating from any part of the world.

Leila has received glowing reviews. Tell us the most memorable compliment?
All the compliments and reactions have been extremely positive. It is really heartening when people are calling to say that it is so refreshing to see a show like this coming out of India. I think, in that sense, it will be one of the most landmark shows to have come out of the Indian digital space and that makes me feel very happy and extremely proud.

Did you learn anything new while acting in this series?
Well, every project is a new learning experience. This one, of course, was too, thanks to (director) Deepa (Mehta), who has been a tremendous influence on me while working in this. I feel like she really helped me connect to my core as a person and as an actor. She has unlocked another door for me and I think that this is one of my best works. And I’m extremely proud of it and will always be.

What have you binge-watched as a viewer recently?
(Smiles) I binge-watch everything. I am totally in love with the show Peaky Blinders and think it is absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to watch the next series. I like to watch all kinds of dark, morbid shows, but to be honest, I do watch everything. I think Peaky Blinders and Black Mirror are my favourite international shows.

Tell us, what is the master plan going forward?
I don’t know. There is no master plan, you just want to keep doing your thing and keep the hustle going. That is what it is, so I don’t really have a plan.

Will you be mixing the mediums, such as Netflix and movies?
Absolutely. I think all actors, going forward, will have to mix mediums such as Netflix and movies. I think that is only the natural progression, which will take place.

You have done diverse genres; what has been your favourite?
I think it would be in the dramatic space. I love drama movies and like high-intensity performances, so that would be my favourite. Also, of course, I do love romantic comedies as well. I have grown up on a very healthy diet of romantic comedies, so that is also a favourite for me.

What is your dream role?
There is actually no dream role, but I would really love to do an action movie. That is something I would die to do.

Is searching for great roles your biggest motivating factor today?
Absolutely. I think all actors search for great roles that they feel they can give it their best shot to or give an outlet to their creativity. So, yes, I guess that is my biggest motivating factor.

You have gone back in time to partition with the film Viceroy’s House and into the future with Leila; is there any other time period you want to visit?
As they say, ‘content is the king’. It doesn’t matter which era I am in, if the story is worth telling, I think I can be in any time period and enjoy being part of it. A good story is the main thing.

What else do you have on the way?
I am currently working on Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead and looking forward to start filming. It will be a genre I have never done before and I want to give my complete attention and focus to it.

You have travelled worldwide with your work; what has been your most memorable encounter?
There have been so many because I love meeting people and having new experiences. I love travelling, I think that knowing about a place or culture is so important. I don’t like staying in conventional five-star hotels. I like to stay in a boutique hotel, an Airbnb or a friend’s home if I get the opportunity, as this the best way to really know a country.

Do you have any ambitions away from acting?
Why not? I think that all actors should have other interests and I have many, like fashion, reading, maybe I will write a book, maybe producing or underwater diving. There are so many ambitions and interests that I have.

Why should we watch Leila?
(Laughs) Because I am in it! No, I think you should watch Leila because it is a very beautiful series and one of a kind, which has never happened in India before. It is a cautionary tale set in the future about a dystopian society and I think there will be something that will appeal to everyone who watches it.

Why do you love being an actor?
I love being an actor because I get to be a different person every single time with each new character and that, for me, is the most gratifying journey; to play different people and wear different hats.

Leila is available to watch now on Netflix