As The Mighty Shabana Azmi Turns 72, Subhash K Jha Catches Up With Actress Who Rewrote Many If Not All The Rules Of Bollywood Heroine-giri
As you turn a year older what are you thoughts on the way things are for you and the world around you?
The world has definitely changed post Covid . It has been a stressful period and the repercussions will be felt for a long time .I hope the coming years will see a greater articulation of our need for each other and a sense of gratitude that the worst is hopefully behind us .. I’ve done a lot of introspection and I feel that we have more than we need of everything .. I want to simplify my life and follow the dictum -give till it hurts .
Looking back at your unprecedented career do you feel a sense of pride and satisfaction ?If you had to change anything what would it be?
I am lucky to have been at the right place at the right time . With Ankur the parallel cinema movement started in Hindi films and I was fortunate to get a spate of strong women characters that broke the prevalent norms of the time.When I did John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka with Shirley Maclaine in 1988 it was very rare to get an Indian actor in such a major role . Ruth Jhabvala was writing the script and suggested that it might be good to change the Jewish mother into an Indian one . John Schlesinger agreed that Asians were becoming such a strong part of the British fabric that they deserved the visibility hitherto denied to them .
The myth that actresses beyond 35 do not get meaty roles was effectively demolished by you. How easy or tough is it for you to still gets powerful parts?
In Hindi cinema substantial roles for senior actors are being written and I am grateful that I have been getting some meaty roles in this phase of my career. I continue to be a very hardworking actor and never allow my years of experience as an actor to make me smug . Nothing can be worse for an actor than overconfidence . Of course you need confidence but when you step over the line and start getting complacent,trust you me , that performance is doomed . I’ve realised that acting excites me more than anything else . So I look forward to meaningful roles and would like to carry on working till the end .
Do you feel that actresses beyond a certain age now have better opportunities than they did twenty years ago?
Times have been changing . The women’s movement all over the world has pushed to give greater visibility to women as equals .Some of that trickles down into the arts as well. Audience tastes are changing and producers realise it makes economic sense to make women-oriented films as long as you keep the budgets under check .We need to change that : make a bouquet of big-budget women-centric films .I am satisfied with the parts I’m getting .But like I always quote Barbra Streisand , “I don’t want much I just want more.”
If you had to change anything in your life or career what would it be?
If I had to change anything it would be that I should have worked harder to succeed at doing the song and dance routine . I used to be embarrassed and think what will my friends say if I wiggle my hips . I used to seek comfort in the fact that Meena Kumari and Nutan couldn’t dance .But I think that was a mistake . I should have faced up to the fact that I couldn’t do it well and that’s why I made up excuses . That time would have been better spent in rehearsal and mastering it . I am amazed at how adept the new girls are with all the Jhatkas and matkas . I realise that if you embrace an art form it is your business to do it well instead of making excuses!
You have played practically everything from the oppressed to the repressed to the liberated. Which is the one role that you still long to play?
I don’t really know . If I did, I would have asked Jadu(husband Javed Akhtar) to write that role for me !!!
You recently shot with Karan Johar. How was the experience ?
I loved working with Karan . He is extremely respectful and also very funny . Between him and Manish Malhotra I was cajoled into creating a look for me that belongs to the KJO world !Ranveer and Alia are great to work with . I wish I had more scenes with Jaya . Dharamji was utterly charming.
How was the experience of reuniting with Shekhar Kapur? How has he changed as a director?
Shekhar loves his actors and inspires them to give off their best . We got two standing ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of What’s Love Got To Do With It.
What next for you?
I am heading into the second season of Steven Spielberg’s Halo in October. Beyond that there are other things happening. I want to keep on working until I can.