Interview : Shabana Azmi
Shabana Azmi is almost a living legend in Indian cinema today with an oeuvre that spans parallel cinema as well as the commercial circuit. In a candid interview, Azmi talks about her cinema, life and views on a changing Bollywood.
The actress who made her debut as a poor villager?s wife in Shyam Benegal?s ANKUR in the 70s to the recent Bollywood hit HONEYMOON TRAVELS, Shabana Azmi has done it all. She is utterly convincing in any role she takes on. However, being an actress is just one facet of this multidimensional personality. Recipient of numerous awards, including the Padmashri, Azmi has donned the hat of a Member of Parliament and the UN Goodwill Ambassador with equal ?lan. She is a strong advocate of human rights and is well-known for her fight for the rights of slum dwellers of Mumbai.
Excerpts of an interview:
You believe in the theory that social change can be initiated by art. But you have also said that only commercial movies can bring a political or social change. Can you explain that?
In India, this distinction between so-called art and mainstream cinema is so acute! As a matter of fact, art films focusing on social issues appeal only to the niche audience which is culturally aware and educated. On the contrary, the target audience of the commercial films is huge. The Indian audience likes to see women as the suffering protagonist, whether it is a mother, wife or sister. Women are cast in stereotype roles for ages. As long as this trend continues, the messages of change conveyed via the art film will fall into deaf ears.
Where do you see Indian cinema in the near future?
Well, let me tell you that the myth ?Parallel cinema is dead? is not true at all. On the contrary, new breeds of directors are trying their hands at a new genre of realistic cinema that hitherto was not been attempted. My favourites are Kaizad Gustad, Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair and of course, Sudhir Mishra. They speak a language through their films that the average urban guy can relate to. They are also targeting an international audience. In fact, the Brand India now needs such filmmakers who will free the international audience from the stereotypes with which they associate India, i.e. poverty, fanaticism, etc. We notice a welcome change in the blurring of the line between commercial films and the traditional parallel cinema. The commercial movie has finally broken away from the typical stories of family drama or boy-meets-girl kind of romance. This is a welcome change from the perspective of mainstream films. In future, I envision Indian cinema to be more realistic, yet, sustaining the entertainment value associated with the commercial movie.
You have played a range of distinct and difficult roles. How much of homework did you have to do for them?
The home work that one needs to do varies from one role to another. What I feel is that life itself is a big source of inspiration and knowledge. A talented actress has her eyes wide open and imbibes her lessons from life. Sometimes, however, you have to work a bit hard. For instance, for my role in Shyam Benegal?s MANDI as a brothel ?madam?. I visited three brothels in three different locations. It was quite a learning experience, really.
You were already famous in the realms of art films. So what made you join the mainstream bandwagon?
Let me say I wanted to stretch my imagination further. Shooting for HONEYMOON TRAVELS for e.g., was great fun. In commercial films, you get to portray a sense of an alternative reality. It can be challenging sometimes.
How was it to act for son Farhan, who produced HONEYMOON TRAVELS?
Farhan is a responsible producer and he knows how to get work out of his actor/actress. He is very clear about his target audience and what kind of movie he wants to make.
Coming to your personal life what makes your marriage such a success in the flimsy Bollywood marriage scenario where marriages are breaking quite regularly?
It is rather difficult to say what makes my marriage tick. Probably the fact that we are always apart and so never have enough time to do petty squabbles. People say Shabana and Javed are seen to be delighted in each other?s company. Now tell me, why wouldn?t that be as both of us rarely now meet at home and mostly at airport lounges when he is departing and I myself am arriving or vice versa! On a serious note, what I admire in Javed is his sharp wit and intellect. He can tickle your funny bone. We share a common background as well. I think these things worked in making my marriage a success.