Indian actress Huma Qureshi, who returns with the second season of her political thriller web series ‘Maharani 2’ this week, is tired of the relentless bashing of Bollywood and the harrowing predictions about its uncertain future.
In the last few months, several big-ticket film with major stars have spectacularly backfired making many wonder about the industry’s feasibility.
“Everyone’s impatient and they are jumping the gun. Just because two or more films of ours didn’t work, we are keen to write an obituary about cinema being over and done with … Cinemas are not going anywhere,” said Qureshi in an interview with Gulf News.
She has a simple theory about Bollywood films battling rough conditions lately.
“Good films have worked and some not-so-good films have not worked, it’s as simple as that. It could even be a backlog of COVID … All the stuff that’s coming out has been made after facing some very difficult times. We didn’t have the luxury of many things and had to be concerned more with safety, health standards etc .. Wait this out,” said Qureshi.
Barring Kartik Aaryan’s horror comedy ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ being a runaway blockbuster, the other releases have struggled to recover their production costs. But Qureshi, who plays a reluctant chief minister of Bihar in her latest web series, is cautiously optimistic. Writing off theatrical film releases and pitting it against web series isn’t fair, she points out.
“It’s like saying that if you have Zomato food delivery service, you will never got out and have a meal at a restaurant. They are two very different experiences. Ordering your favourite Chinese and putting on TV is fun, but you also enjoy the experience of dressing up and going out on dinner dates … Theatres are not going anywhere,” said Qureshi. Two blockbuster releases later, the same ones who wrote of Bollywood will be talking up about glory days returning to cinema.
“OTT is not going anywhere either… The clean-up will happen and then just the good stuff will remain. It’s a process … An ebb and flow,” pointed out Qureshi.
Speaking of good stuff, her role in ‘Maharani’ has been universally appreciated by critics and fans alike. She’s already working on its third season, indicating that this politically-charged series is here to stay.
“Rani Bharti is an important character and I feel there’s a bit of Rani Bharti in all of us. She hopes to change society and bring about some good, and aren’t we all a bit idealistic like that? She’s a fierce character as well,” said Qureshi.
While the first season saw her being thrust into the male-dominated political world, the second season will see her grow as a character.
“In Season 2, she’s more in control and is aware of her political power. In the first season she was pushed into it by her husband who’s like her political father-figure and she’s just figuring her way into it all … Now she knows the rules a lot more and she’s also trying to clean up the system and take the bad guys to task,” explained Qureshi.
While she is aware that her character and her acting was well-received, she will never forget her first scathing review.
“There was one review which came out first on a Saturday which wasn’t so good and it made me feel really bad. After that I read like 10 good reviews, but the human brain just focuses on that one bad take. You keep wondering why they didn’t like it … But in a day, I remember my brother – who never comes to my room – barging in and saying that he had dozens of calls and messages congratulating me,” said Qureshi. After that, it was a ‘tsunami of love’. She remembers how she was dissuaded from headlining a web series a few years ago. In 2019, Qureshi – who has acted in films including ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ and ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’ plunged into the OTT space with dystopian drama ‘Leila’.
“When I first did a series a few years ago, I remember I was the first female to headline a series on OTT and I was [expletive] excited. But everybody kept telling me: ‘don’t do it right now because people will think you don’t have a film in your hands and that your career is going nowhere’. They felt it was a step down from theatrical experience, but now there are so many series with good writing and actors,” said Qureshi. According to her, COVID-19 hastened the entire process.
“Today, OTT is such a thriving ecosystem for everyone and it’s been a rewarding journey.”
‘Maharani’, which revolves around a sari-clad woman from a village taking over the State leadership, worked largely because the show cut beyond the sexually graphic and violent series that were cramming the web series space in India.
“Sometimes, a scene will pop where you will see a naked man walk across the room and you wonder if you want to see that scene with your grandmother in the same room … A lot of family became cagey about that … Plus thematically, our show worked. Politics is a huge part of an Indian’s DNA. We love discussing cricket, politics, and films and that’s the holy trinity … We filled that vacuum,” said Qureshi. Her titular character doesn’t alienate a large part of India, believes Qureshi.
“Rani’s character is very rooted in Indian culture. She’s loves her husband and loves to pray, yet she’s so progressive … A large part of our Indian population feels alienated because mainstream content makes those who don’t speak English well sub-par … But finally they got a protagonist who’s not fluent in English, has not seen inside of classroom, or travelled the world. But she’s a smart cookie.”
Her series ‘Maharani’, which means queen, also spins the traditional narrative of a hero become a saviour on its head.
“As a woman, you are really at the bottom of the barrel. But she rises to be this hero,” said Qureshi.
In real life too, Maharani’s struggle to be taken seriously mirrors with what Qureshi had to go through to make a mark in Hindi cinema.
“I came to this city [Mumbai] from Delhi without knowing a single soul. I went to auditions like any other struggler with a bag and my lines …Nobody tried to launch me or hand a film on a platter, I earned this spot.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Did you know?
Huma Qureshi isn’t a fan of being reduced to her looks alone.
“There’s no focus on nurturing their personalities or giving them roles that cut across than just how beautiful actress’ are. That’s so limiting. Calling an actress beautiful doesn’t feel great. It’s their genetics … Why are we not celebrating women who are actually doing more than just look good on screen?”
2. Children’s education
3. Crime against women
Don’t Miss It!
‘Maharani 2’ will stream on SonyLiv on August 25.