I meet Huma Qureshi downstairs in the Soho Hotel and she is, without a doubt, intimidatingly beautiful, talented and sophisticated. Huma is an award-winning actress in her native country India, and was most recently cast in Viceroy’s House directed by Bend it like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha.
Huma plays the role of Aalia, a Muslim interpreter who falls in love with a young Hindu servant during the tragic events of 1947 indian independence from Britian. Along with Viceroy’s House, Huma is also starring in the Bollywood sequel of Subhash Kapoor’s JOLLY LLB 2 of February of this year, in which she plays the wife of superstar Akshay Kumar.
1883 sat down with Huma to chat about Bollywood, making the big move from New Delhi to Mumbai and preparing for such an emotionally charged role as Aalia in Viceroy’s House.
How did you begin your career in the acting industry?
I started my training in New Delhi. Growing up I always enjoyed all types of theatre and cinema so I took a risk and decided to move to Mumbai. I began working as a model and booked various commercials for skin and haircare. Eventually my acting break came when I was cast in Gangs Of Wasseypur an indie crime film directed by Anurag Kashyap. It was my first role in a film, which fortunately did very well.
How does the theatre training in India differ from training in the UK?
Theatre training in India is more international then people suspect. Growing up I trained at a theatre group called Act One, which is one of the oldest theatre companies in New Delhi. I would finish my studies in the afternoon and would stay there till the early evening. We were trained in a very similar method to the UK, and we were given vocal, physical training and body conditioning. We studied theatre practitioners such as Stanislavski, and performed both classic and contemporary plays. I think the biggest difference between our training and the training in the UK, is there are different dialects we use in India which are used in performance as well. I had a very inspirational teacher during my time at Act One called Mr Sharma. He motivated me to pursue my ambitions and pushed me towards moving to Mumbai to work as an actor. My parents were very sceptical about my decision to act, which now that I’m older I understand - parents only want safety and security for their children and the acting industry definitely doesn’t always guarantee success!
Tell us about your role in Viceroy’s House?
Viceroy’s House is a historical/political drama about the partition of India, and the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten handing back India to the people. I play the romantic interest of actor Manish Dayal, our romance is similar to Romeo and Juliet. Our characters are from very different situations, who fall in love during a time of political turmoil. My character Aalia is a traditional woman, bound by having to care for her blind father. When I read the script for the film, I gravitated towards it immediately as I believe it is very relevant to our world today and the ongoing political changes that we are currently going through.
How did you prepare for your role in Viceroy’s House?
Actors always use different methods to prepare for a role, personally I like to do a lot of research about my character prior to shooting. For my role in Viceroy’s House, I studied the history of the period, and researched the role of women. I watched a lot of speeches given by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, who was an Indian diplomat and politician. I was very influenced by her work when developing my role. Like many actors, I also focused on my character’s image - I spent a lot of time working on her mannerisms, accent and how she dressed. Before I go on set I have a questionnaire for each character I play in my mind, that I like to have completed before going on camera, in order to feel thoroughly prepared. When I’m shooting I like to take direction as much as possible from the director, and let them guide me through the process. There is no specific or correct way to develop a role it is different for every individual actor and how they have trained.
Singing and dancing is heavily featured in Bollywood films, why is this a constant feature?
Singing and dancing comes from our ancestors, so naturally it has transitioned into film. Each different hand movement or gesture in our routines symbolises a different meaning, it is a celebration of love and life. I feel that the western world is taking inspiration from Bollywood with films such as La La Land and Les Miserables. Equally at the moment Bollywood is also taking innovation from the West by using more dramatically charged story lines and focusing on classical theatre.
What have been your biggest achievements so far in your career?
To me personally the two biggest achievements have been making the decision to move to Mumbai and conquering my fear of singing. I didn’t know where my journey in Mumbai would take me, I had never left home before so it was exceptionally different from anything I had experienced. My second conquering my fear of singing whilst training. I was playing a refugee in a very emotional scene during my time with Act One, I was struggling to hit the correct notes. My tutor guided me brilliantly, teaching me that every actor has a singing voice and that I must go through the struggle to find my own. Eventually I overcame the fear of singing, and was very proud of my work during the scene, it came from a very emotional and honest place from within.
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in this industry?
To be aware that entering into this industry requires consistent of hard work. You have to continuously practice your craft and stay positive even when you’re not acting. Always try your best, be prepared to handle rejection and never take yourself too seriously!
Huma can be seen in Viceroy’s House out now in cinemas .