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More than just an Act, Shabana Azmi:

Shabana  Azmi’s  filmography  is  a  compelling reflection of her beliefs and her social standpoint. While her first film, Shyam Benegal’s Ankur, Won  her  the  National  Award,  Mahesh  Bhatt’s  Arth reformed  her  perception  of  her  role  as  an  actor  and  the  responsibility  bestowed upon an artist as an instrument of social change. an  actor  par  excellence,  a  social activist who continues to defy her critics and a woman of many attributes - Shabana Azmi,  a  five-time National  Award  Winner and Padma Shri recipient,  epitomizes  an almost enviable trajectory in Hindi cinema. In  a candid conversation,  she  reveals  her feelings  towards  the  emancipation  of Women,  new-age cinema  and  her  career so far. 

After movies like Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola, Midnight's Children and The Reluctant Fundamentalist... what kind of roles are you looking to play at this point in your career? 
Anything  that  is  trying  to  say  something new that I agree with, excites me as  an  actor.  If  the role  is  different  and if I feel the film is important enough, I go ahead with it. The length of the role is no  longer  important  for  me.  With The  Reluctant  Fundamentalist and Midnight’s Childrenboth, I really wanted  to  be  a  part  of  the  ensemble.  Both are such good scripts, being directed by two of the best women directors in the industry.  Hence,  even  though  I  have  a very tiny role in both Mira and Deepa’s films, I took it up. In Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, I have a very substantial role where my character  is  that  of  a  corrupt politician. I liked the role as it was something  new  for  me  and  I enjoyed bringing  little  nuances  to  my  character. I am happy with the response I have received for it and thankful to Vishal for giving me such a wonderful role. 

Apart  from  films,  your  work  as  a  social activist  is  not  only  inspiring  but  has given direction and hope to many people, women in particular. What do you think is the way forward for Indian society? 
It’s no secret that India is a patriarchal society  where  girls  lack  equal  access to  education, health, employment  and control over their own decision-making ability. I think it’s time for each segment of society  to  look  within  themselves, instead  of  portioning  blame  on  others-the police, the law makers, the justice or films -and see what is it that we can do to change this mindset. Having said that, I believe that art has the ability to create a climate of sensitivity in which it is possible for change to occur and so movies,  literature,  drama  and  theatre - all  have  this  possibility  that  should be utilized. There are some people who believe  films  are  only  for  entertainment,  so  let’s  redefine entertainment. It is much more in the subliminal messaging that we need informed choices.

Do  you  think  the  female  actor  has  the capacity to bring about a change in the way women are portrayed in films? 
Absolutely.  Nobody  else  but  the  actor can initiate this change. Because, when you  accept  a script,  you  accept  that you are happy with the way the girl is portrayed. Beedi  jalaiyle  jigar  se piya,  I think,  is  really  robust  and  celebrates a  woman’s  sensuality.  It  shows  her  in control  and is  based  in  our  folk  tradition and is fun to watch, but if you say, Mein  toh  tandoori  murgi  hoon yaar, ghatka  le  saiyyan  alcohol  se you  are actually inviting the man to come and attack  you.  So my  plea  is  that  vulgar lyrics  and  vicarious  camera  angles  do not empower a woman, it commodifies her and girls need to be aware of that. In the past, I have done films in which I  wasn’t aware  of  what  the  ultimate message  was  and  I have  been  corrected and I stood corrected and after that I made informed choices. 

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