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INTERVIEW: Shabana Azmi

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Actress Shabana Azmi during the launch of International Day of the Girl Child 2013 in Mumbai on October 10, 2013. (Photo: IANS)

Subhash K. Jha talks to veteran actress Shabana Azmi who says for an actor, life must be the resource-base

Actress Shabana Azmi during the launch of International Day of the Girl Child 2013 in Mumbai on October 10, 2013. (Photo: IANS)
Actress Shabana Azmi during the launch of International Day of the Girl Child 2013 in Mumbai on October 10, 2013. (Photo: IANS)

Known for her realistic portrayal of characters on the screen, seasoned actress Shabana Azmi says and actor can enrich the character they play by drawing upon all the depth of their own experience.

When asked who are the people who have most influenced your thought processes and your over all personality, she said: “My parents Kaifi and Shaukat, my husband Javed, Shyam Benegal, Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kapoor.”

“Then there are all the women I work with in the slums from whom I learned resilience… imagine living under the threat of your home being demolished any day and yet being able to function! Also, the women in Mijwan,” said the actress who wowed with her performances in “Mandi”, “Masoom”, “Godmother” and “Fire”.

Excerpts:

Q: As you look back what do you feel about your achievements so far?
A: I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time! But the best is yet to come. Of all the things I do acting is what I enjoy the most. I’m blessed to be in a profession I love.

Q: If I ask you to name 5 incidents that were turning points in your life what would they be?
A: 1. When I joined FTII. 2. “Ankur” 3. “Arth”. 4. Watching Anand Patwardhan’s documentary “Bombay Our City” 5. When I protested against the killing of theatre activist Safdar Hashmi at the International Film Festival of India in Delhi, where my film John Schlesinger’s “Madam Sousatzka” was premiering.

Q: Who are the people who have most influenced your thought processes and your over all personality?
A: My parents Kaifi and Shaukat, my husband Javed, Shyam Benegal, Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kapoor. Then there are all the women I work with in the slums from whom I learned resilience… imagine living under the threat of your home being demolished any day and yet being able to function! Also, the women in Mijwan.

Q: How do you allocate so many varied roles to yourself in life?
A: For an actor, life must be your resource-base because you can enrich the character you play by drawing upon all the depth of your own experience. In the process of becoming a star you get isolated from life because you are so surrounded by a concentric circle of people around you that you start living almost in a bubble.

Q: How do you stay do grounded in spite of all the adulation?
A: Kevin Spacey told me it’s a choice he has made to travel by tube, buy his groceries etc. Can you imagine what would happen in India if Shah Rukh Khan decided to do that? I wanted to travel by metro to my play while I’m in London. But I was advised against it.

Q. You have turned 64! What plans this year?
A. My play “Happy Birthday Sunita” opens in London on Sep 19. On my birthday I will be in technical rehearsal till 10 p.m.! Javed has come to be with me and I’m thrilled. No other plans needed!

Q: Do you enjoy the cake cutting and the gifts?
A: The cake cutting is a practice I do not like. When did it start in India and why, I do not know. In school, we were only allowed to give two sweets each to the entire class. It was a great leveller because it prevented the richer girls from being lavish and shows the not-so-rich ones in poor light! I’m not a great stickler for giving or receiving presents on birthdays, anniversaries, etc. as a ‘must do’. I prefer giving a gift without occasion if I feel it’s something a friend will like.

Q: But surely you like something?
A: I must confess that flowers are my weakness and I love receiving them, especially Indian fragrant flowers – Mogra, Rajnigandha, Sontakka etc.

Q: Which is the most memorable birthday you ever had?
A: My 50th birthday. All my friends came from various corners and Abba (father poet Kaifi Azmi) sat quietly through the noisy celebrations in a sherwani and ‘topi’ looking like the birthday person himself!! Javed was wonderful too, but it’s too personal to share the details.

Q: 64… is it just a number or does it really mean a coming of age?
A: I’m at peace with my age. I’ve embraced life at all stages. I remember people were horrified when I celebrated my 50th! ‘Don’t announce your age’, I was advised! How stupid is that.

Q: As an Indian actress, do you feel restricted by your age?
A: This is the best time to be an actor. There are many parts available for all age groups. It’s no longer the stereotypical mother in a white sari and terrible wig sacrificing all for her family!

Q: Any unfulfilled dreams?
A: I would have loved to play the piano! Alas! It’s too late now.

Q: If you had to change one thing in your life, what would that be?
A: It’s too personal to answer.

Q: Generations of actors consider you a role model. What advice do you have for them?
A: Never become complacent, work hard. Embrace life!