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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