During her short visit to Hyderabad, Huma Qureshi discusses creative challenges and the effect of portraying an intense character in the web series ‘Leila’

In the last few months, Huma Qureshi has been engulfed in the world created by directors Deepa Mehta, Shankar Raman and Pawan Kumar for the Netflix original series Leila, based on a book by the same name by Prayaag Akbar. Leila, expected to stream from mid June, also stars Siddharth, Rahul Khanna, Sanjay Suri and Arif Zakaria.

Shooting long hours for the project, Huma didn’t take up any other film. Having finished a chunk of work for the web series, when she got a call from her good friend and actor Lakshmi Manchu to visit Hyderabad and walk the ramp for a Teach For Change fund-raiser event, she gladly took it up.

In a brief meeting while in the city, Huma says, “Lakshmi (Manchu) has been supporting Teach for Change and working in this area for a few years. I wanted to support her. I believe education is the foundation to everything in our lives. In our country, we talk about having to change a lot of things. That change has to begin with education.” The book

  • Written by Prayaag Akbar, Leila (Simon and Schuster India; ₹ 599) is set in a dystopian city in the near future. The book follows Shalini who is on a quest to find her daughter, Leila, whom she lost 16 years ago. The story of longing and faith also has its gaze on class, privilege and the choices in front of us.

The last time she visited Hyderabad was to promote Kaala, the Pa Ranjith directed film co-starring Rajinikanth. Looking back at the film and the warm reception she got from Tamil and Telugu industries, she says, “It was heartening when people said they haven’t seen a Tamil heroine like that. For me, it’s important to play such good, exciting parts. I don’t have the bandwidth to take up too much work, so I pick and choose.”

Once she began working on Leila, it was all consuming. “Sometimes, we were shooting 14 to 15 hours a day. I couldn’t take up anything else even if I wanted to,” she adds. Huma calls this phase of the opening up of the entertainment industry on digital platforms as “an explosion, and it will only get bigger. We are at an interesting stage where people are watching international content on their television screens, laptops and tablets. We have to match that scale, production values and content. And that’s happening, which is why mainstream actors are also becoming a part of it. We have a rich culture with strong narratives, waiting to be explored.”

Having read Prayaag Akbar’s book, Huma says that while the book is the basis of the web series, “there’s a lot more happening; the story and characters have been developed. It’s too early for me to say anything more.”

Leila unfolds in a milieu that can be disturbing. Being a part of it wasn’t easy for Huma: “It was so intense, and I felt I might need therapy after playing my character. As an artist, when you engage with certain material that’s been written with honesty, it also has the potential to change you a bit as a person.”

As always, during the shoot she had switched off her mobile phone. Distractions don’t work for her. If there’s a process to her work, it’s a mix of research and spontaneity: “I don’t over-rehearse; it takes away from the mazaa of acting. I need to know enough about the world in which the story is set, and then I have fun with the material. When someone talks about method acting, I want to run far away. I don’t identify with it.”

Reflecting on her journey of working with directors like Anurag Kashyap, Sriram Raghavan and Deepa Mehta, Huma feels it validates her reason to become an actor in the first place: “I crave creative interactions and good material, and in turn become a better actor and hopefully a better person at the end of each creative endeavour. I chose this profession for the creative challenge and I’m enjoying it.”

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