She has played a multitude of roles on the big screen, but off screen too, veteran actress Shabana Azmi, who turned 62 Wednesday, has performed a variety of roles – a loving wife, a dedicated philanthropist and a woman who inspires others to achieve new heights.
In a tete-a-tete, she talked about her personal and professional life, and of the times that she looks forward to in the near future.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. You complete 62. How do you look back on you amazing life so far?
A. With gratitude for being at the right place at the right time. I feel blessed that my parents gave me values that I cherish. I’m singularly lucky to have worked with directors who dared me to take risks and be different and I am thankful to the Indian film industry for giving me my primary identity. I will also remain indebted to all those people who sensitised me to using art as an instrument for social change.
Q. How do you plan to celebrate your birthday this year?
A. We’ve just had a huge celebration for my brother Baba Azmi’s birthday a few days ago. Close on its heels, I wish to spend my birthday very quietly with no taamjhaam (frills).
Q. Very few women in our country have achieved as much as you have. Does that give you a feeling of completeness as an individual?
A. There are thousands of women in our country who have achieved thousandfold more than I have and I’m not saying this out of false modesty. What I value is that I have been able to do some modest work to help women rise to the level of their potential.
Q. Shabana, your life is a case study of opportunities and their optimum use. Which according to you were the major turning points in your life?
A. “Ankur” in 1974 because it ushered in the parallel cinema movement. “Arth” in 1983 because it started my involvement with the women’s movement. “Madam Sousatzka” with Shirley Mclaine in 1988 that led to my working in 10 films in the west. My five-day hungerstrike along with Anand Patwardhan for slumdwellers of Cuffe Parade. Today we at Nivara Hakk have built tenements for 50,000 slumdwellers at Chandivli in a tripartite agreement with government Maharastra, a private builder and us. My nomination to the Rajya Sabha by the President of India has also been a great learning experience and I was a very active member.
Q. Which according to you is the single-most influential film of your life?
A. Mahesh Bhatt’s “Arth” remains a milestone. I continue to meet women who say that it was a transformative experience for them and gave them tremendous strength.
Q. Women and girls all over the country look upon you as a role model. How self-conscious are you of your public conduct? Are there times when you want to let your hair down, but can’t?
A. I believe in decorum and being appropriately dressed. I take care to conduct myself formally in public and not be brash. That is a given for people in public life. But I’m very bohemian and informal when I’m with friends.
Q. Your marriage with Javed sahab (Javed Akhtar) is, according to me a confluence of intellect and common sense. What is the formula of your successful marriage?
A. That we hardly ever meet because both of us travel so much for work! There are times when we’ve said high and bye at the airport! Jokes apart, we have the same family background and so much in common that ours should have been an arranged marriage. We share a common worldview and Javed is fond of saying, “Shabana and I are such good friends that even marriage couldn’t ruin our friendship!”. We respect each other and give a lot of space. Lately, however I feel the need to chipko (stick) to him more and more and feel quite desolate when he is not around because he is my biggest source of strength.
Q. As an actress, you’ve covered almost the entire spectrum of roles. Is there any character that you still crave to play?
A. Not that I crave for it, but I’m curious about playing a historical part. I have no idea how I would inhabit it because we have so little documentation. Most Indian performances are based on other performances! It would be a challenge.
Q. Any regrets in life? For example you didn’t become a mother…is that a regret?
A. For a long time I didn’t believe that I couldn’t become a mother. But when I finally came to terms with it, then I didn’t look back. I believe one cannot get everything in life and this vaccum had to come my way.
Q. If you had to change one thing in life, what would it be?
A. An end to our patriarchal society’s mindset that values boys over girls.