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Dystopia is utopia that's sold to people: Huma Qureshi on future setting of Netflix series 'Leila'

Leila announcement poster. Photograph:( Twitter )

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 13, 2019, 02.31 PM (IST)

What happens when your dream of a better future turns into your worst nightmare is the premise that attracted Huma Qureshi to star in Netflix show 'Leila', which explores a dystopian future of oppressive socio-political-religious order. 

The actor, who plays the lead in the series adaptation of Prayaag Akbar's critically acclaimed book of the same name, said people always aspire for a better world without thinking that what they are asking might go the other way.

"Sometimes dystopia is the very utopia that you are sold. We all are sold dreams and we think, 'Oh, this is like a great future that we're going to get.' But is it really going to be that great?" Huma told PTI during an interview.

"'Leila' explores that if a dream is promised, then what if that dream is not so rosy? And there is something deeper and more sinister that is going on. This is what the show very bravely attempts to challenge," she added.

As an actor, Huma said, it was exciting to explore different themes. In the case of 'Leila', it was the dystopian setting that appealed to her the most.

"I think being an actor, that is the reason why you do this. You have the ability to not just play different characters, but also inhabit and make believe a world that may or may not exist. It could be another galaxy, time travel or your country set in the future. That is what essentially attracts you to acting. Although we don't have a reference point for what may happen in the future, that's the whole idea of human imagination."

The show, set in the fictional world of Aryavart, follows Shalini (Huma), a mother in search of her daughter Leila who she lost one tragic summer. She deals with various hardships in the course of her search, in a story of longing, faith and loss.

Huma said the element of loss is an important pivot in the story but the show manages to focus on other aspects as well.

"Prayaag has written a wonderful book and I really loved it. But I think what we have managed to do with the show is that we've taken that (element of loss) as a base? He very briefly touched on those elements but we have really taken that forward. The world is far more diverse and rich in terms of society. You explore all the levels and you go into all those parallel stories," she said.

Talking about her character Shalini, Huma said she comes from a wealthy background and is pretty aware of the happenings in the country but like many others, she turns a blind eye to that.

"When you are there, you can show empathy towards what's happening around you, but you're not really a player in that sense. And what happens in the show is that she's thrown in these impossible circumstances where she now has to take action, she has to participate. And that was the one thing that I identified with. I may have a strong opinion about something but do I really engage with it? What would happen if I was put in a situation like that? That, I think, is something that a lot of people will be able to relate to when they watch the show."

Working in a Netflix series was a "big breath of fresh air" for Huma as the actor said the projects at the streaming giant don't follow the usual Bollywood tropes of storytelling.

"It is a sigh of relief. What was happening, not just in India, but the world over is that we were getting so restricted with this whole struggle to do certain kind of box office numbers. The filmmakers and artists were getting constantly challenged to try and streamline their work into a certain mould.

"With players like Netflix coming into the game, now you can just tell a story and that story doesn't need to have songs, it doesn't need to have a certain set formula to it. And I feel it's so liberating. I mean, internationally, some of the best work is happening on these platforms. The writing is amazing. You have mainstream actors now working in them and it is creatively satisfying," the actor added.

'Leila' starts streaming on Netflix from June 14.