It's not like strong women don't have a romantic bone in their body, says actor Shabana Azmi, wondering why her kiss with Dharmendra in Karan Johar's latest "Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani" has generated the buzz it has. In the movie, Alia Bhatt's Rani and Ranveer Singh's Rocky meet each other while searching for the connection that their respective grandparents once shared. The Azmi-Dharmendra romance plays out to old Hindi songs in the film.
Azmi, 72, said she is happy audiences, especially young people, have embraced the much-discussed kiss.
"I think the maximum comments that I'm getting are like, 'Oh wow, we would have never imagined you in this kind of role and you carry it out with such grace'. Grace is the word that comes up often," Azmi told PTI in an interview.
In her view, the kiss generated so much debate probably because "it's such an unexpected thing".
"You're not prepared for it in any way at all... But I am like 'why is this so surprising'... An actor who has a strong woman image, why is it not possible that she can also be a romantic person? It's not like strong women don't have any romantic bones in their body.
"I think it's the deliciousness of it that has taken people by surprise and they just adore it. It's the younger generation that's really doing all the clapping and cheering." Azmi said Johar, who she has collaborated with for the first time in a movie, kept telling her to trust him. She got similar assurances from the film's costume designer Manish Malhotra, who has dressed her in the loveliest of the saris for the movie.
"It needed some willing suspension of disbelief. And Karan kept saying, 'trust me', 'trust me'. Manish Malhotra kept saying, 'trust me'. So, I said, 'All right, I'm surrendering to you all. And if people throw stones at me, then I'm going to pick up those stones and throw them right back at you'," Azmi recalled with a laugh.
The film, which she calls a "studied risk" by Johar, is doing well with all the critical and commercial acclaim coming its way. "Rocky Aur Rani..." has already collected over Rs 100 crore at the worldwide box office since its release last Friday.
"Karan tackles subjects, which have been a relative anathema in mainstream. And yet, he came from a position of such conviction," she said, praising Johar for stretching people's imagination without being "preachy" and "keeping all the fun and the energy going." "Because if you do this in the parallel cinema, then you're preaching to the already converted. So if you want to bring change through the medium of films, then it's important that it's also brought in through the mainstream," she added.
In a key scene, Azmi's character owns up to the fact that she had an affair as a married woman and has no regrets about it.
The idea, Azmi said, was to break boundaries without sounding cheap.
"You can say something like that and you can give it the grace and the dignity that is required. So breaking out of what you have strongly believed are boundaries beyond which you cannot step in mainstream cinema, that truly is wonderful," she said.
The actor also credited dialect coach and actor Husne Shabnam for helping her perfect her Bengali diction.
"She really worked hard especially to get the song right under the watchful eyes and ears of the Bengali community. I'm glad that that's been appreciated," she said.
Azmi will next be seen in R Balki's "Ghoomer" in the role of Saiyami Kher's cricket-loving grandmother. She has a homely appearance but is knowledgeable about the sport and inspires her granddaughter to take up the game.
After that, she also has Vikas Khanna's "Imaginary Rain".
"The fear that we had of ageism and all that, it is disappearing and roles are being available for people of all ages and obviously that's a very happy situation for actors. I'm glad to be here at this time working," she said.
The veteran star, an icon of the '70s and '80s parallel cinema who had an equally impressive mainstream filmography, is being celebrated by the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) with a retrospective. She will also hoist the Indian national flag to kickstart the Independence Day celebrations at the movie gala.
Azmi's films "Dharavi", "Ek Din Achanak", "Ek Doctor Ki Maut", "Paar", "Pestonjee" and "Sati" will be screened at the festival.
The actor credited festival Mitu Bhowmick Lange for curating an interesting line up instead of taking up popular titles from her filmography.
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