Huma Qureshi has always been vocal about body positivity and challenged the practice of body shaming, online and otherwise. The actress, who clocked a decade in the movies this year, has also spoken about her journey of self-love, dealing with internal battles, and not seeking society’s validation in any way. Huma now stars, along with close pal Sonakshi Sinha, in the November 4 release Double XL that tracks the ups and downs in the lives of two plus-sized women and how they triumph against all odds.
In keeping with the theme of the film, Huma has now associated with Godrej Professional for their #colorforall campaign that celebrates every dimension of beauty and is focused on inclusivity by spotlighting those who have challenged preconceived notions about beauty. The Telegraph caught up with Huma, who has recently scored a winner with Season 2 of her web series Maharani, for a chat.
The trailer for Double XL looks very interesting. It’s quite a refreshing subject, of course, and kudos to you for backing it and making it happen.
I am hearing some great feedback for Double XL... very positive, very heartening. I hope everyone comes out and watches the film and gives it the love that it deserves. It’s a big film with a big heart and needs a big-screen movie experience.
It’s almost serendipitous that you are doing a film on positive body image at the same time as associating with Godrej Professional for their campaign #colorforall that celebrates inclusivity. What can you tell us about it?
I think it’s such an exciting time to be a female actor. When I was growing up, we didn’t have movies, content or even brands that supported body positivity and inclusivity. And today, I feel that there is a general sense of being aware of how one cannot subject women and their bodies, minds and personalities to be fitted into some kind of box or mould.
I am excited about this association with Godrej Professional. The brand has always been known to be at the forefront of inclusive lifestyle choices for women. They are well aware that this is the TG (target audience) that they need to talk to and embrace and not talk down to.... that is so important. That’s because most messaging and advertising, when it talks to women of a certain type, makes it seem like they don’t matter... that they are not seen because they don’t fit into someone’s idea of perfection and beauty.
This kind of treatment leads to many women having some kind of psychosis and losing confidence and ultimately making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
This campaign tells all women — no matter what colour, age, body type, shape, ethnicity — that they matter, that they belong, that they deserve to be be heard. That’s what #colorforall stands for. It’s very empowering.
With more awareness, are you seeing a shift in the mindset that defines beauty very myopically?
I have now been working 10 years in the business and I have definitely been told things like, ‘Oh, you are slightly overweight.’ In my second film, a reviewer wrote: ‘Huma is lovely and has great potential to be a great actress, but she’s five kg too heavy to be a mainstream heroine!’ You know, that really hurt! It stung so bad and I was like, ‘How can you say something like this about a girl who is just starting out?!’ It was so demoralising for me to come from another city, to struggle, to audition and then start getting a little bit of work... and even after that, I was being judged not on my craft, but my weight?!
In the last 10 years, I have done indie films, big commercial films, web series, international work... and my body type hasn’t ever affected my career. And yet, this topic always comes up. Why does any girl, including me, have to go through this kind of criticism all the time? My job is to be an actor, it is to deliver performances, it is to connect with audiences.... How does it matter if I am five kg heavier or lighter? The parameters of scrutiny we subject women’s bodies to is so unhealthy.
Which makes me believe, now more than ever, that I am in a position to decide what I want to lend my voice to. I want to speak to young girls, who are influenced into thinking they are different, by social media and other things, that they matter. Not everyone needs to fit into this picture-perfect Instagram filter image. In life, even actresses don’t look like how we do in films or ads.
Through Double XL and this brand association, I am trying to give back and tell women that instead of making your body fit into a type, work on your minds and personalities and concentrate on what you put out there. When I was growing up, I perhaps didn’t have many role models who said this in as many words.
Of course, back in the day, we had heroines who were curvier and were real women with real bodies. But over the years, somehow, that narrative shifted. Today, if I am in a position to talk and influence, then I need to leave that as part of my legacy.
How did you arrive at this mindset of not allowing yourself to be dictated by society’s unrealistic definitions of beauty, especially as an actress?
When I first came to Bombay, I was very exuberant and I got some very good opportunities to showcase my talent. I was just a kid who wanted to act and was excited to be a part of the Hindi film industry. Initially, I didn’t know how to deal with the criticism and the trolling, and it did affect me. I was low and depressed and unsure and I said ‘no’ to a lot of projects. I went through a phase of not being okay with myself and also subjecting myself to trying to fit in. I also failed miserably at it because I wasn’t be true to myself and to who I was.
During the first Covid lockdown, I had some time to introspect and at that time, I got the call for my show Maharani. I had to play a woman who is deglam, the mother of three kids... it had none of the so-called trappings of what’s expected out of a conventional Hindi film heroine. At that time, i just went back to that girl I was 10 years ago and said that if I saw an actress play a role like this, would I be excited? And the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. So now when I am in the system, why am I being scared to make that choice? Playing Rani Bharti in Maharani has been a turning point for me, as a performer and a woman. That we have had two very successful seasons of the show has taught me that one should never be scared to stand out.
One doesn’t need to fit in anymore. I want to ask what is this stereotype and who has made this stereotype. I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked at a press conference: ‘Maam, aap bikini kab pehnengi? Aap size zero kab banengi?’ I don’t know how someone can even ask such questions and get away with it?
I have never been a size zero, and I don’t think it has affected my career at all. In fact, my image now is not that of any cookie-cutter... I don’t want to be easily replaceable in the roles that I do. And I am also proud of the fact that so many of my contemporaries now are constantly pushing the envelope, constantly demanding to do more and be more, as opposed to doing two scenes and three songs in a hero-dominated film. Give us the opportunities, give us the budgets and we will deliver. We will hustle, we will keep knocking on that door till it breaks down.
Do you think a film like Double XL would have been greenlit even five years ago, and that too for a theatrical release?
Perhaps not. The conventional thinking always was: ‘Who wants to see two fat girls on screen? We want hot women gyrating and pandering to the male gaze.’ I am fortunate to have had an amazing team on Double XL who have supported the vision of the film. The film resulted after a hanging-out session with a few of my close friends and we realised that Sonakshi (Sinha) and I have been such close friends and we both have had parallel careers and seen success, but we both have faced talk like: ‘Sab kuch achha hain, sirf thodi si moti hain.’ And both of us wanted to make a film on this. We had people joining us along the way and making this journey possible. We feel that this is an idea that will resonate. This is not a preachy, documentary film that’s giving gyaan. Its an entertaining film that we hope will bring about some social change.