Huma Qureshi, 26, ensures she gets what she sets her heart on. She is more emotional than practical and would rather take her decisions based on gut, if not for her younger brother Saqib, who is more mature and is her best friend and advisor. Ahead of her upcoming film Ek Thi Daayan, she talks to TOI about her conservative family background, her mentor NK Sharma and why she would never give up her friendship with Anurag Kashyap. Excerpts:
Let's talk about your childhood?
I was born and brought up in Delhi. While my dad is from Delhi, my mom is Kashmiri. My dad Saleem Qureshi owns a chain of restaurants called 'Saleems' for the past 30 years and it has eight outlets. While we lived in GK 1 in South Delhi, we were always sent to our grandparents' house at either Nizammuddin Basti near the dargah or Rakabganj at Old Delhi on the weekends. My grandparents were extremely conservative and my brother Saqib and I had to be well-behaved and I had to be dressed in a salwar kameez. My father had seven siblings and we had a huge family. We also had a huge house with a tree in the centre of the courtyard. We used to love going there as we were all a riot. As I grew up, I was suddenly not allowed to play being a girl and I resented that. I am more girlie now, but at that time, I was a bit tomboyish and a brat. Though I now kick myself, I did not want to learn Urdu at that time as I found it uncool. We would also go to Kashmir for our summer vacations. So from an early age, both Saqib and I learnt how to blend in.
When did you realise you wanted to be in films?
I've always wanted to participate in everything and was an all-rounder. My parents thought I was good at studies and felt I would do something academic. I joined History Honours at Gargi College and joined theatre. Delhi University has the best theatre in the country and that's when the bug really bit me. I started working with Act 1 theatre group and was also a part of one of Aamir Raza Hussain's plays. Every day at Act 1, we would hang out there between 2 and 9 pm and discuss everything from Mandi House gossip to politics to have our rehearsals over lots of chai. That feeling of being a part of a group and belonging to a place, where everything from your health to your character was being discussed and everyone aspired to move to Mumbai, was so special. Lots of people from the industry used to drop by while we were rehearsing.
It taught you to be democratic, have an opinion and be able to voice it no matter how insignificant it may sound. NK Sharma, Panditji as we call him at Act 1, changed my life. I adore that man and love him. I still call him once every 15 days and take advice from him. His best compliment to me after seeing Gangs Of Wasseypur was 'Yaar tum to badi filmi ho?' While I liked theatre, I didn't have the courage to admit even to myself that I wanted to act in films. Then I got a call from a friend of mine and he said one of the directors wanted to test me for a film with Abhay Deol and he called me to Mumbai. I told my parents I was going for a holiday and would watch a few plays at Prithvi theatre and return. Though I was selected for the film, it got canned. But it made me think seriously about moving to Mumbai. Now, I had to go back home and tell my parents. They thought I had lost the plot and it took me six months to convince them. But I am stubborn and if I set my heart on something, I want it. I also had a serious relationship at that time which broke up after I came to Mumbai.
How did you get your first film?
While my dad could afford to get me an independent house and a car, I did not want to ask him for too much money when I shifted to Mumbai. I stayed as a PG in Juhu with four other girls in a tiny place where each of us had a bed and a cabinet and we would have fights everyday on who would use the washroom first. I would eat from dabbas, travel in a rickshaw, sometimes even walk to save the money. I had decided to give myself one year before I returned. I started doing a lot of ads and did ads with Aamir Khan, SRK and Abhishek Bachchan. It was on one such shoot of Samsung with Aamir at Panchgani that I met Anurag Kashyap. He told me on the second day of shoot 'I will cast you in my film.' I did not believe him but he kept his word and gave me a role in Gangs Of Wasseypur. I was advised against doing the film with 300 dark actors, none of them being heroes, and told that I should wait and do a romantic film with a star. Had I listened to them I would have gone back home by now.
You are friends with Anurag Kashyap. What is he like?
As a director, he appears to be scattered and disorganised on the surface, but that is because he is spontaneous and organic and takes a lot from the places he is shooting and will do it with a certain amount of unpreparedness. Even though he is writer, he is not word heavy and always tells his actors about not being bothered about the lines. As a friend, what helped is that he knew the whole Act 1 gang and my ex-boyfriend. He is unreliable as in if you call him, you would not know if he will take your call or not. But what I like the most about him is that he is also the most reliable and if I need to reach out to him, he will help me. I don't need to hang out with him all the time, but he is there for me. He was my first director and due to our common friends he is protective about me and will always make that effort to find out how I am doing. If I seek advice from him, he will only give me facts not his opinion as that may colour my judgement about people and that is rare.
Are you also friends with Kalki?
I had first met Anurag and Kalki together as a couple in Panchgani. We had got a day off and Kalki and I went strawberry shopping. Since then, we have been friends. She is intelligent and is a fun and cool girl and is a good actress. Inspite of being unconventional, which has its drawbacks in terms of the roles you can do, she has created a space for herself. She is glamourous and is one of her kind. When we were shooting for Ek Thi Daayan, we would share two ends of the same van and keep our middle door open so that we could jump in and out of each other's area in the van.
There have been stories of you dating Anurag. Are you dating him?
No, I am not dating him and I am not going to let these stories affect my relationship with him or Kalki. My parents are fond of him and I won't stop hanging out with him or stop going to his office because of these stories. Is a married couple not allowed to be friends with a single girl? It's strange that these stories are coming in the last two months. It's a convenient way of bringing me down given that I am doing a number of roles. And yes, I'd like to date someone, but unfortunately I am not dating anyone at the moment. The only person in all of this who gets hurt is me as the implication is that my achievement so far is not because of my hard work or my talent but because I am having an affair with my director. Vishal Bhardwaj, Ekta Kapoor, Kannan Iyer, Abhishek Chaubey and Sameer Sharma have not cast me in their films because I am having an affair. By asking this, you are questioning not just my credibility, but also theirs.