Shabana Azmi is of the opinion that acting is something that can be taught, though talent is something which is inborn. 'Training is definitely helpful for any actor. Smita Patil was not a trained actress but the best thing about her was that she had spontaneity of her own as an actress. I do not know how I would have played the role she had done in BHUMIKA, because we had entirely different approaches to acting. You polish your inherent talent like a diamond. I am a firm believer in training though I have my own reservations whether a one month course will be able to train you effectively as an actor'.
Shabana proceeds to dwell at length on acting. 'If you are an actor, you are in fact your own instrument. To play sitar well, you need the dexterity. We actors have to rely mostly only our own body, mind and heart and exposure to the world and if you get training, you are greatly helped, especially if you keep your instrument finely tuned to enrich yourself as an actor'.
Shabana does not agree with the notion that it is only bad or non actors who take up direction eventually to survive. 'It is not necessary that actors who take up direction are necessarily bad actors. You cannot deny that Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt were good actors too. Farhan Akhtar is a good actor too besides being a good director. Isn't it?'
Shabana concedes that Hindi Cinema is changing as far as portrayal of women is concerned. 'Definitely the atmosphere is changing now as far as portrayal of women in Hindi cinema is concerned. In the 60's you had Meena Kumari, Nutan etc who played important female parts but were cast in stereo typical moulds of what was acceptable at that point of time as a silent suffering Indian woman. With films like MAIN CHUP RAHOONGI, CHUP REHNA was actually considered a major virtue for women, whereas today women are changing with time and are a lot greyer, with boundaries getting mixed.
Women are being cast in different kinds of roles, with various shades. As far as storylines, particularly when it comes to the way women are portrayed certain baby steps are being taken, because we are trying to understand women in more complex ways and no longer is a woman portrayed as all good or all bad. Nowadays, attempts are made to portray women as real and not necessarily doodh ki dulhi'.
It's a bitter truth that today's directors have no idea of rural areas…'
The main thing that has brought about this change in the mind set and made a difference is the profile of people making films, according to Shabana Azmi. 'Art cinema has not disappeared. It has just taken a different avatar. Today it is the bitter truth that new directors do not have any idea of rural areas though exposure is to not only Hollywood but also world cinema and aesthetics has improved greatly'.
Talking about the change in attitude of people who want to learn acting, Shabana is forthright. 'It is rather sad that today people want to learn acting instantly. I would say that acting is a very serious job. I should know because in the last thirty six years, I have acted in around 140 films. Acting is not a horse race about who runs the fastest in the shortest time, because an actor who plays the role of Hamlet well can be bad as an actor when he sets out to play the role of Othello, especially because versatility is the main quality of any actor. Only those who have passion and feel that they would die if they do not take up acting should actually take up acting as a profession, not every one who is just glamour-struck. There is a long struggle ahead for actors because there are thousands of new comers who want to take up acting'.
Though Shabana does not deny that it is difficult if one does not come from the industry, she is also candid enough to say that though one is related to some one in the film industry, one may get an easy entry, if one does not have it within him or her, it would be very difficult to sustain as an actor in the industry. 'Today every one wants to become an actor. I would cite the examples of actors like Jackky Bhagnani and Harman Baweja, who were given big launches by their own fathers Vashu Bhagnani and Harry Baweja respectively when they were launched in films like KAL KISSNE DEKHA and LOVE STORY 2050 respectively'.
Shabana compliments actors who act in languages which are not their own and says that it is not at all a cake walk. 'I have never dared to work in a film in a language that I do not know. I admit that I do not have the guts to work in a Tamil or for that matter Malayalam film. It is very credible that so many from the South act in Hindi films though they do not know the language at all. For me, as an actor, the word has to have meaning since I have a lot of respect for the word especially since I come from a family of writers. Though I have also acted in films in English, I find it difficult because abroad they speak English differently and you feel that your voice sounds awkward'.
Acting is not a race about who runs the fastest in the shortest time...'
Insisting that thorough preparation is a must to get into the skin of one's character, Shabana cites the example of her performance in the film MORNING RAGA. 'When I was offered the role of a Carnatic singer in MORNING RAGA, I was terrified and thought that I could not do it. Because I was terrified, I practiced very hard for the role. My aim was clear. I had to sing one long alaap and I wanted to do it one take. If I had faked it, it would not have worked and hence I learnt Carnatic music from a music teacher before I shot for the scene in the film'.
Shabana asserts that basically actors are very insecure and the best of them need approval from their directors. 'Dustin Hoffman used to tell his directors that they did not like the scene he did because the directors did not praise him and hence they used to tell him that he was perfect after each shot of his. Total trust should be there between the director and the actor. Often it becomes a tussle of ego between both and then there is some block. I remember I could not do a scene in ANKUR properly and I had burst out crying on the sets. Shyam asked for a tea break and after which I could see myself getting sensitized enough to do the scene properly. The block had disappeared by then. If Shyam had asked me to relax when I could not do the scene, it would have only made me tenser'.
In conclusion, Shabana says that she does not encourage method acting among newcomers. 'I would advocate every one to do natural acting. American actors believe in Lee Strasburg method acting whereas Lawrence Olivier is a typical English actor. Dustin, who believes in the method acting starved himself for three consecutive days and tired himself physically so much so that he fainted at the time of the shooting. When he regained his consciousness, Lawrence Olivier told him, 'Now that you have tried everything else, why don't you try acting too to prepare yourself for your role'? Need I tell you anything more about method acting?'