(L to R) Huma Qureshi, Vijay Varma and Neena Gupta
Rani Bharti is one of the most interesting figures Huma Qureshi has played in a career with quite a few characters. The puppet chief minister in Maharani Season 1 on SonyLIV starts to develop a backbone and by Season 2, it is clear that she realises how corrupt her husband is. What follows is a season where Rani Bharti becomes the real power. Qureshi says: “People love Rani Bharti because she makes you dream a little.” But Qureshi stays away from real politics. “We’re living in such polarised times, no matter what I say, people are going to jump on me. Also, maybe the views I have are half-baked. I take responsibility not to air my misinformed ideas. I want to stay away from the toxic environment. I want to empower women and children, and it’s better to do it through my work,” she says. She deeply resents the idea that women need to conform to a shape, size, colour, or marry, not marry, have children, or not have children. But she is a rebel with poise. As she says: “I come from a Muslim household in Delhi, a very simple middle-class upbringing. Tehzeeb [culture] is in my DNA, no matter how much I rebel. But if I can conduct myself through my actions and work, be a role model in some way, I’ll be delighted,” she says. She is happy that her female colleagues are pushing the envelope, demanding better roles, asking to be looked at differently. She feels she is doing some of her best and most fearless work, whether it was Zee5’s series, Mithya; the song in Gangubai Kathiawadi; or the action role in Valimai. Coming up, she has the movies Double XL (she had to put on 20 kg—“people would call me a big girl, and I would say I will show you what a big girl is”); Monica, O My Darling and Tarla. She is focusing on diversity, and rejecting the many Bihari women roles she got after Rani Bharti. “I’ve given everything to Rani, now I can’t do more,” she says.
V for Varma
What makes a Kabir Singh different from a Hamza in Darlings? What makes one a lover and the other a monster? It’s the female gaze—the former is directed by Sandeep Vanga Reddy, and the latter by Jasmeet K Reen. It is also fine acting. As Hamza, Vijay Varma comes up with a definitive performance which makes him the devil next door. He is naturally getting a lot of hate online for his portrayal, but it is a tribute to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII)trained actor’s skill that he is able to play the character with the right mix of frustration, helplessness and rage. Varma, who first shot into the spotlight after knocking around for a while, with Moeen in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019), has got rave reviews from critics and his fraternity, including the director Sriram Raghavan, no stranger to human frailties. Varma did a lot of research into what makes a man like Hamza strike a woman. It could be the realisation that he is in a dead-end job, that his only asset is a house whose value he wants to appreciate and the only good thing in his life is his wife. Yet, he cannot help himself—when he drinks, he becomes a feral beast. After Gully Boy, he got people to pay attention to him and convinced his family that he won’t die alone. With Darlings, he has come centrestage. “When I do a film like Darlings, I do so because I am one with the intention of the film. I believe in what the film is saying and, therefore, I want to put myself on the line for that message to get across,” says Varma, who is originally from Hyderabad. Next up for the actor is Sujoy Ghosh’s untitled thriller and Reema Kagti’s web series Dahaad. Varma, with his collection of sneakers and nifty jackets, is also emerging as an interesting dresser, always important in a world where the red carpet matters as much as the performance on screen.
Scene and Heard
The struggle against ageism is real. Neena Gupta had trouble finding someone to act as her ex-crush and former co-star on Masaba Masaba 2. “A 60-year-old man has no trouble finding a 30-year-old woman to act with. Try reversing the gender and see the difference,” she says. Fortunately, the amiable Ram Kapoor stepped in and the result is quite old school romantic. But Gupta is, as always, upbeat: “This is how society is.”