Why Zeba, heroine of Huma Qureshi's new book, is the badass version of Huma

In writing the book, Huma breaks all rules of writing


Actor Huma Qureshi has written a book―Zeba, an Accidental Superhero―and much like our heroine, there is that which is accidental about the book. It was not a planned masterpiece, but a zig-zaggy tour through Huma’s imagination. All themes in the book, she says, are accidental, and she gives the reader full rights of interpretation. “I invite all readers to draw their own inferences from what they feel about it,” she says.

In essence, she is telling us to make of it what we will, and so, that is exactly what we are going to do. Zeba, we deduct, is the badass version of Huma. She is Huma on steroids, Huma in high-resolution, Huma in a cape (pick the metaphor of your preference). For those of you who have not read Zeba, it is about a second-generation American immigrant who is the “chosen one” (kind of the female sum of the parts of Neo, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter) to save the people living in the fictional kingdom of Khudir ruled by an evil dictator, the Great Khan.

So why do we say that Zeba is Huma 2.0? For one, she is the fulfilment of Huma’s deepest wishes. Like flying. There are two things in Huma’s bucket list currently: make her book into a film and learn flying. And guess what? Zeba is a certified flyer. She has passed every exam with flying colours―written, oral and practical. See a pattern here?

Huma disagrees with our hypothesis that her creation is a glorified version of herself, but there are those who would agree. (Like Freud, for one.) Here is the second reason why we think so. Huma, like the rest of us, lives in a reality that is too realistic for its own good. After all, she made her film debut with Gangs of Wasseypur, which is the antithesis of fantasy. The film portrays life at its darkest and grittiest. It is only natural that when Huma writes a book, she would make it flighty and fanciful, her own way of rebelling against the humdrum league of realists. It is also telling that her favourite superhero is Deadpool, the most wisecracking of them all who his writers described as “fun to hang out with… in short doses”.

Huma is at her most adventurous, not just in the creation of Zeba, but also in the structuring of the novel. In writing Zeba, she breaks all rules of writing. She mixes the real with the fictional, bringing in things like a performance by Beyonce at a royal wedding in Khudir, with her “long, cascading hair” and “thighs that evoked lust and dreams of earth-shattering orgasms among all genders.” (Wouldn’t you just love to see the Queen Bey raise her sculpted eyebrows at reading this?) Often, Huma ambles into her story with humorous asides, much like Shakespeare walking into his play and asking Hamlet to get his act together.

There are post-its and illustrations strewn throughout the book. In fact, Huma says her favourite part of the novel is a post-it that comes right after Zeba gives a formal introduction of herself, and says: “Everything you will read in the following pages is fiction. Do not believe anything you read here.”

Finally, the reason why Zeba is the Freudian dream version of Huma? Because after all, who would not want to be Zeba, the pot-smoking, protein shake-guzzling superhero, who secretly wishes that the joint she flicks over the rooftop will fall on someone’s blond hair extension and set their clothes on fire. And has heady sex with a Bollywood heartthrob, with bonus post-coital snuggling included. And can zap a field of soldiers frozen with a single icy stare. Literally.

Zeba, an Accidental Superhero

By Huma S. Qureshi

Published by HarperCollins

Price Rs499; pages 187