In the last year she’s been travelling the world, effortlessly moving from a cross-cultural romcom to a period historical and now a mainstream Bollywood comedy-drama, with an energy and verve that is uniquely Shabana Azmi. Excerpts from an interview.
You recently started shooting for Karan Johar’s directorial Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani. How’s it been so far?
I enjoyed my first schedule. Karan is lots of fun and pretty relaxed on the set. I’m looking forward to the outdoor schedule later this month.
The film features Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, along with Dharmendra with whom you had done films like Mardon Wali Baat earlier, and Jaya Bachchan with whom you are working for the first time. A quick take on your co-stars…
Ranveer is intense and Alia is pretty cool. Dharamji is his soft, gentle self and is looking great mashallah. Jaya and I have always bonded well. She was the reason I joined the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). I was bowled over by her performance in a student film, Suman, and decided to head to Pune.
You seem to be in the mood for lighter roles given that you wrapped up Shekhar Kapur's cross-cultural romcom, What's Love Got To Do With It? with Emma Thompson, earlier this year. What was it like working with Shekhar after the memorable Masoom in 1983?
I was working with him after what seemed a lifetime, but there was trust on both sides and it turned out to be an excellent experience. Shekhar has always been versatile, his films are very different from each other, and he loves his actors. We started the film in January and completed the shoot on February 21 in London, in a record 38 days.
It’s a lively script and in these dark times, doing a nice, happy film at the height of the pandemic, was heartwarming. Emma and I play neighbours—she is the girl’s mother, and I play the boy’s mother. I’ll let you into a secret. For being the brilliant actress that she is, Emma can’t play ‘Dumb Charades’ to save her life!
Your other co-star in the film, Lily James, is also a known name after Mamma Mia and All About Eve. Was she bowled over by you?
Lily was lovely to work with. She does little things which are very endearing and doesn’t throw her stardom around. I’m pretty certain she wasn’t bowled over by me, but there was healthy mutual respect.
Faraz Arif Ansari's 30-minute short, Sheer Qorma, a sensitive same-sex love story of belonging and acceptance, family and identity, has been winning awards and accolades on the festival circuit, including a Best Actor Award for you at the India International Film Festival in Boston. Did you expect such a heartwarming response to this little big film?
I was pretty sure Sheer Qorma would be noticed, but I wasn’t sure I would win any awards for it. So, I am pleasantly surprised. Faraz made a film straight from his heart, and both Divya (Dutta) and Swara (Bhaskar) are very good in it.
Did the weeks of lockdown give you a chance to learn or do something you always wanted to but never had the time for?
Sadly no, but it was a great bonding time for the family. We shifted to ‘Sukoon’, our Khandala home. My brother, Baba, has a house close to ours, so does my close friend, Parna. Zoya and Farhan would come over often and we spent the kind of time together that we had not done in years. In fact, it was also the longest period Javed and I have spent together, and it was good to know that we enjoy each other’s company.
It’s been a wonderful bond forged over 36 years of marriage…
A compatible marriage is the most nurturing of relationships. But you have to work at it. I find it strange that we are willing to make an effort with our friends and colleagues, but not with our partners. Why? Because we take each other for granted and do not respect each other's space. My idea of love is not to breathe down my spouse’s neck but to let him be as much as I would want him to let me be. Fortunately, because both of us are doing work that we are passionate about, we do not demand to be each other’s be-all and end-all.
What happens during a fight?
One thing that has consistently worked for Javed and me is to use the two magic words, “Drop it”, when in the middle of a fight. Don’t sulk, don’t let it hang over for days and spread bad vibes all around. When both are in a better frame of mind, thrash it out, point by point. Anger and rashness can make you say awful and unfair things that you will only regret.
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)