Leila is very close to my heart because it tells a story of empowerment, says Huma Qureshi
Huma Qureshi, who has bagged a role in Hollywood Director Zack Snyder’s next film Army Of The Dead, is excited about Leila being set in the future
It is a hectic last day in the winter sun. There are men moving around in black hoods that read 'Leila' on the back. Siddharth is being ushered around by the crew, while the actor Arif Zakaria casually chats with personnel and journalists alike.
Leila is based on writer Prayaag Akbar’s book of the same name. Its central character, however, is a woman called Shalini who marries outside of her religion and loses her daughter in the shadow of a regime that practices a puritanical form of politics. Akbar’s book is both gripping and horrifying, its soul though rests on the shoulders of its protagonist. In Netflix’s adaptation, which releases tomorrow, 14 June, the role is being played by Huma Qureshi, who walks in, smiling, the relief of long shoot behind her, evident on her face.
Qureshi, who has bagged a role in Hollywood Director Zack Snyder’s next film Army Of The Dead, is excited about Leila being set in the future. “Isn’t that so exciting? That is the best part and that is why you sign up for something like this. You get the opportunity to inhabit make-believe worlds that may or may not exist. I think is what essentially attracts you to acting. We may not have a reference for what will happen in the future, but that is the beauty of the human imagination, it lets you draw who you want to be and the world we would want to see,” she says.
Qureshi, in playing a mother in a dystopian India of the future, has the opportunity to own a role that is pretty much new to cinema in India. “That would be incredible, if I’m remembered for playing something no one has done before. Leila is very close to my heart, because it tells a story of empowerment,” she adds.
Though Qureshi has been part of critically acclaimed films, she is, perhaps for the first time, holding together a project of this magnitude. “I think what makes any art more important, is the context. When it is placed in a certain context its value rises on its own. When the show will unfold, people will realise what the background is, and will relate to it on many levels. That is how stories about partition, holocaust become so engaging. The odds stacked against your protagonist is what defines the connect between the story and the audience, “ she says.
In terms of the character, Huma plays Shalini a woman from the right side of the tracks. “You know we live in such an opinionated world, and are compelled to express when we read something on twitter or on social media. But we are hardly able to anything about it. That is what Shalini is. She comes from an entitled background and is part of the elite. As the show progresses she is thrown into some incredible circumstances where she has to act. Showing empathy, therefore, wasn’t so difficult. I could relate to her,” Qureshi says.
Qureshi believes that dystopias aren’t just physical, they are, at times, political and philosophical, as real as any product or agenda being sold to the public. “Dystopias can also be the things you believe in, the dreams you’ve been sold,” she says.
Tackling a role, a genre that is thin in Indian cinema’s history is one part of the challenge. The other is working on the same dish, with different chefs, or in this case, directors. Leila has been put together by three Directors including Deepa Mehta, Shankar Raman and Pawan Kumar. “I have to tell you this system that Netflix has come up with, it works. This was a first for me as well and I was extremely apprehensive. I have always worked with one director, be it theatre and films. Essentially, there is a show-runner and there are multiple directors who come in and take the story forward. They look at the same material in their own ways but keep the world intact. I was surprised, how incredibly well this system works, at least it worked for us,” she says.
The actor says that though Akbar’s book is the base for the story, the show has built a lot on it, even in terms of the characters being portrayed on screen. Speaking of which, there are bound be comparisons, inevitably with The Handmaids’ Tale, especially between Moss and Qureshi. “I don’t think the two are similar shows. They are very different. But I would love for her to watch it. I love her and would love it if she thinks equally of me. We do, however, intend to stand apart because it would be boring to make the same thing, right?” Qureshi says.
Of what impact such a character and tone of work has on the individual playing the role, she says, smiling “I am having bad dreams, man. I may need therapy. But, yes, it has been a very emotional shoot for me. It has been immersive, exhaustive and it has made me more confident about my work than I have ever been before”.
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