Hear All About Netflix’s ‘Leila’ From Huma Qureshi and Deepa Mehta

Huma Qureshi and Deepa Mehta tell us what to expect from ‘Leila’

3 min read

Netflix’s new series Leila starring Huma Qureshi is set in a dystopian society under a totalitarian regime where any woman who marries out of her caste and religion will be forced into living in an ashram. There will be ‘purification’ of those women as they are forced to follow the Aryavarta culture. The show has been adapted from Prayaag Akbar’s novel Leila.

Ahead of it’s release we spoke to Huma and the show’s director Deepa Mehta on why they adapted the book, whether it reflects the country’s political climate and why a platform like Netflix is a boon. Here are some excerpts:

So from what I have gathered from the trailer and the episodes I have seen, the show is set in this dystopian society where there is this really scary totalitarian regime called ‘Aryavarta’. I want to start by asking you that since the show is based on the book, what appealed to you about the material?

Deepa Mehta: There something that became very obvious to me when I was growing up was that how do you imagine the future? We can always imagine the past, history is a part of imagination. But to imagine the future you have to know the present. And there has to be a whiff, or smell or fragrance or a seed that takes us into the future. It can’t just exist without the present. And there was something about the book that really appealed to me like the climate, the place of women, how do we keep our dignity as humanity, pollution, the have and the have nots, the creed, caste and division. Also what’s happening in the world, totalitarianism, authoritarianism and it’s all over. When you look at Venezuela or you look at Trump, it’s right next door. Or the confusion with Brexit right now, it’s too close to home.

Do you think that the political climate over the last few years has prompted you to look at the material differently and maybe it could eventually be a reality for people, was that something that crossed your mind?

Deepa Mehta: No, not really. I didn’t say that this is going to become a reality that’s why I want to do it. It’s possible but I was talking to a friend of mine Ramin (Bahrani) who did the remake of Fahrenheit 451 and we were talking about exactly the same thing. I said why do you want to remake it, when it’s already been made. He said there’s something really scary about books being burnt now so as it’s becoming closer to home in different parts of the world we are realising that this is not just our problem, this is across the world.

Huma Qureshi: To be honest, not really because I don’t think there is anything like that on the show which would elicit a reaction like that. It’s like saying that when you watch Looming Towers the show and it’s an anti-American show or several of these films that get made and you say it’s an anti-Muslim sentiment. I feel like you can’t be so generic, you are trying to tell a story and they just happen to be characters.

What has this opportunity or this platform given you as a filmmaker that you felt you could do differently?

Deepa Mehta: I think it is different for different things. I make most of my films abroad, or they’re at least released there. Even if they might have been made here, they have been released outside. So we don’t have the same censorship, I think censorship is different from ratings. We have ratings something is restricted and Netflix also has that. Some shows are restricted and some are not and that is more sensible. Then it’s left to the viewers to decide and it isn’t censored for you so I feel that as far as this is concerned it is excellent because it makes me feel like a mature human being, a responsible human being or a responsible parent who says my kid who is ten years old will not watch this so there is a sense of ownership and dignity. I keep coming back to the word dignity and that is very important and I’m happy about that.

Leila starring Huma Qureshi, Siddharth and Rahul Khanna and directed by Deepa Mehta will release on Netflix on 14 June.

Video Editor: Veeru Krishan Mohan

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