In a free wheeling interview with Media India Group at Cannes, on the occasion of the 71st edition of the world’s most prestigious film festival, noted Indian actress Huma Qureshi talks of several issues including the Me2 movement, freedom of expression and the situation of women in India, besides her own journey to stardom.
Dressed in a flowing off-white gown, richly embroidered, Huma Qureshi looked resplendent as she arrived for the inauguration of the India Pavillion at Cannes, along with chief of the censor board, Prasoon Joshi, noted film makers like Shaji Karun and Jahnu Barua and Vinay Kwatra, the Indian ambassador of India to France.
In her speech during the inauguration, Qureshi emphasised the need to open up the world of cinema to the common people, adding that the global cinema needs to be democratised to make not only watching films more accessible to people around the world, but also to allow more and more people to make films and show them to the world.
In an exclusive interview with Media India Group, Qureshi later elaborated the point of democratisation of the cinema. “I think it is happening and it should happen. One thing is that more and more people are turning to digital, which of course makes the whole thing far cheaper and hence film making is no longer a protected, elitist, closed medium anymore. More and more people now have access to making films and watching films. I think it is so important,’’ she said.
“A lot of issues that we have in the world today, rise from the fact that we do not know enough about each other’s cultures, that we don’t respect each other’s origins and there is so much negativity and strife around because we don’t know where the other person is coming from. A lot of this would be quelled if we are able to embrace each other in terms of traditions, culture, language, food, beliefs and dress and cinema has the ability to transcend all these differences and help to see and understand other cultures and traditions in order to bring them together,’’ Qureshi added.
For Qureshi, coming back to Cannes is extremely special as it was here that her first film, Gangs of Wasseypur was screened six years ago. “My journey began right here in 2012 when I was here at the India Pavillion and the next day we had the screening of the Gangs of Wasseypur. So for me, it was literally like a dream come true. I did not even for a moment think that a film about gangsters from India and that too set in that period and in the heartland, a place like Wasseypur, would find a resonance with the French or global audience. But, I remember the screening over here and it was a very special occasion. We had a standing ovation and after we had people talking to us about how the film touched them or how they were able to connect with the film. And that for me was very heartening as it taught me that films which talk about your own culture, but with a global perspective will always find resonance across the world,” she told Media India Group.
On her filmography, Qureshi says she is satisfied and has done what she has wanted. “I have been enjoying myself, doing different kind of roles, working in different languages, so yes, I am enjoying myself, I am having fun. No challenge as such, but I am very excited about the work I am doing right now, am very excited about the people with who I am working right now. I keep constantly looking for projects that are challenging. A lot of people complain that I do less work, but I don’t want to keep repeating myself and keep doing the same thing again and again. I don’t want to be the biggest movie star in the world I just want to be the happiest! (laughs)”
On the spate of attacks on films and filmmakers in India, Qureshi was blunt. “That kind of hooliganism should not be tolerated by any government. I think film as a medium has always been at the receiving end from everybody and it is sad as films are meant to entertain and help you transcend to another place and culture and it is sad that people are attacking an art like that because in any culture where there is no free exchange of ideas where there is no free art that culture is not free in any sense and it is something for us to think about and to constantly keep it in check if we want to continue to remain being a democratic and a free country.”
On the casting couch in the cinema industry and the sexual exploitation and harassment of women in the workplace and in general in the society, Qureshi says it was a phenomenon not limited to the film industry alone. “Well, as a woman, absolutely, I have had to deal with people making advances at me, but not just people from the business of film industry, but people across different professions and different strata. I think it has a lot to do with power, it is not only limited to the film business. It looks difficult because in India and elsewhere in the world, the moment a woman speaks out against harassment, people sort of start making all sorts of character judgments about her, about her morality, about what she was wearing and all such things and I think that is not fair. If a woman is saying something out loud, she is asking for help and you have no business character assassinating her. You have to reach out to her and help her and protect her and I think we need to protect our women, we need to protect our children and we just need to do that.”
On the spate of incidents involving rapes of minors in India, Qureshi says the incidents show the need for a major change and from within, not an issue that can be handled only by passing new laws. “I am hoping that with the new laws passed, it would change something. It may act as a deterrent. But I also know that somewhere the change has to come from within. We have to have more gender-neutral approach towards things. I think these things have to start at home, where you need to start looking at girls differently, where you don’t start at a position where the girl does not have the same rights as her brother in the house. You need to begin the change from within and here only laws cannot help, the change has to be more profound and more voluntary and from within.”
Qureshi arrived in Cannes as a brand ambassador for Grey Goose, a public relations firm, which has organised a ‘Monter des Marches’ (or Red Carpet appearance) as well as key media interviews.
About the most challenging role played by her so far, Qureshi said it was the portrayal of a sex worker in Badlapur. “I would say that the Gangs of Wasseypur was very difficult, but Badlapur was a very difficult role. I was playing a sex worker in the film and a character that people had to empathise with by the end of it. It is also about the question of consent. But this was a sex worker who literally gets raped by the protagonist and to play it in a way that does not make her dignity as a woman fall at any given point of time was a challenge because more often than not in India when you say a sex worker, people think automatically that she does not have any dignity as a human being but how do you play a complex character like that. So that was a challenge for me and I am glad that I had a director like Sriram Raghavan who is just amazing and he has such a complex and such a fine understanding of characters and of the story he is telling, he is just very, very empathetic human being, so I had a great time working with him. Also, it was very challenging and I was scared how it would turn out, but in the end I am glad it all worked out fine at the end.”