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Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Huma Qureshi | The shape of things to come?

She has a name and face out of the 1940s and a smoky presence that quietly settles over the room. But the most remarkable thing about Dedh Ishqiya actor Huma Qureshi is what lies below her jawline—hunks of flesh that swell the ribs of her back, fill out her wrist-length sleeves and persuade the cinematography and costume departments to conceal rather than reveal.

Qureshi’s weight, which posed no obstacle to romance whatsoever in Dedh Ishqiya, played out as a nudge-nudge joke in her debut feature, Gangs of Wasseypur, in the scene in which her character Mohsina’s paramour, Faisal, who is shorter than her and about a quarter of her size, consummates their marriage with a vigour that causes her to yelp out in pain/pleasure. Mercifully, this disposable aspect of the Faisal saga is heard rather than seen, but the allusion, both to Faisal’s virility and Mohsina’s wholesome appeal, is unmistakable.

Fat girls don’t get ahead in the movie business, and while Qureshi’s progress doesn’t challenge this dictum, it is nevertheless heartening. The former model’s girth hasn’t prevented her from appearing in roles that require naturalistic acting and girl-next-door attractiveness and that don’t call for Abbas-Mustan levels of oomph (pencil skirts, blouses with dipping necklines, swimsuits) or the kind of blinding glamour that only stratospheric creatures like Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone are capable of delivering. She isn’t in the league of Vidya Balan, who hit pay dirt only after she got over her pear shape, or Sonakshi Sinha, who epitomizes the voluptuous Indian woman type that Madhuri Dixit popularized in the late 1980s and 1990s. But for film-makers willing to look beyond stereotypical notions of female beauty, for which slimness seems to be a necessary condition, Qureshi fits the bill.

Practitioners of offbeat-mainstream cinema position themselves as being artists rather than hacks, which means that they are supposedly more serious about their storytelling and more willing to work with unusual faces and no-name actors. An unusual face doesn’t usually mean an unusual body, and even the offbeat-mainstream crowd has attempted to create its own star system to replace the one supposedly being replaced. Alternative depictions of female beauty are conjured up by the likes of Kalki Koechlin, whose exotic looks and bohemian image can be moulded to fit a variety of characters, Kangana Ranaut, the woman with the Parisian ramp body and the small-town accent, Richa Chadda, the go-to actor for hussy roles, and Shilpa Shukla, who repackaged herself as a pin-up in B.A. Pass.

Qureshi’s body type might prove ultimately restricting for her career, but she seems to be doing decently thus far. Female actors like her will have to make merry until the marquee names decide to pick up street credibility by playing atypical parts. Abhay Deol’s fledgling career as a Hindi indie star was effectively finished by Ranbir Kapoor’s decision to position himself as an unorthodox superstar. Qureshi doesn’t have any such challenge in the looks-good-and-act-decently-so-what-if-she-cannot-dance niche, so she will hopefully continue to pop up in the most unexpected places, giving us alternative and believable visions of the female body.

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