Huma Qureshi’s tryst with Malayalam movie industry

Strikingly beautiful. These are the first couple of adjectives that accompany the sight of Huma Qureshi. In a maroon dress cinched at the waist paired with mile high stilettos, she is nothing like Mohsina of Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW) or Munira of Dedh Ishqiya. This is a very modern Huma, the one we will see this Friday when she makes her Malayalam debut with Uday Ananthan’s White.

Known as a thinking actor, her impressive CV includes working with directors such as Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj and Nikhil Advani. Apart from GOW and Dedh Ishqiya, she has also acted in Badlapur, Ek Thi Dayan and Shorts among others. Her decision to do a Malayalam film, four years into her career, is proof of her guts to experiment, as she has been doing with her choice of roles. This is not her first brush with a regional language film, last year she acted in a Marathi film, Highway.

The Malayalam debut, she owes to Uday Ananthan’s script that drew her. In the film she plays Roshni Menon, who is in love with a much older Prakash Roy essayed by Mammootty.

The actress was in town to promote the film. Scores of television crew and some from FM radio stations await their turn at Kochi Marriott. As she finishes a couple of interviews her team sweeps her into the lift for a costume change. The wait is long, almost two hours.

When we next see her, by the poolside, she is dressed in white. And she looks distraught, furiously typing away on her phone as she sits down for the chat. Her pet dog, Streak, is unwell. “I am sorry,” she apologises distractedly. The situation ‘handled’, the interview begins.

“Fun, interesting, first-time Malayalam film – of course, every film you work on is a different vibe, a different culture. And this is a completely different language, but I had great fun,” she sums up her White experience.

The inevitable question, since she is not from any of the Southern film industries – did she know, when she signed the film, who Mammootty was? “Of course, I knew who Mammootty was. Between him, Mohanlal and Amitabh Bachchan – they rule the roost here as far as acting goes in the country.”

Initially intimidated by Mammootty, she is all praise for him saying it was easy working with him. “It was very nice. He is quite the megastar with years and years of experience. And many, many National Awards – it is intimidating, of course. He is a very lovely human being, nice co-star, very helpful – he helped me a lot with the language. Often repeating dialogues after me to explain phonetically the language sounds and how one should take natural pauses. Malayalam is not a loud language, it’s subtle – these are things only a speaker of the language will know. It was very kind of him to help me out in my process.”

Malayalam is not the easiest of the languages to work with, and definitely not for one whose ear is new to it. Huma too faced the difficulties. She tried learning it with a tutor but realised “it is not a language one can pick up in 15 days. It’s not something you can do in ‘30 days for dummies’ sort of way. It is a complicated language, requires years and years of getting used to and speaking. I tried my best and hope people appreciate it.”

How Huma worked her way around the language ‘problem’ gives an insight into how committed she is. With help from the assistant directors she learnt the language phonetically, wrote them down in Roman, copied all the sounds and clicks – how the mouth moves. “I had to learn all that and from getting someone to explain the meanings to where the pauses were. My theatre training helped, as did the fact that I wasn’t intimidated or thrown by the language.”

The director, Uday is all praise for Huma’s work and commitment – “Let’s say if the film, as I visualised it, was an edifice then Huma comfortably moved into that space adding the doors and windows and fitting into my vision of the film. Her grasp is impressive.”

‘A lot of blood, sweat and tears’ went into the film, and she hopes audiences like it.

Her kitty is full – her releases for the year include Dobara, a remake of Occulus, a project she is excited about and one which stars her brother Saqib Salim and Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House.

Another call about her pet and its time for a wrap with apologies from Huma, again.