Faridoon Shahryar (FS): We have with us the pride of Indian art, Shabana Azmi, here at IIFA Singapore. Pleasure having you Ma'm on Bollywood Hungama!
Shabana Azmi (SA): Thank you!
FS: How has been the overall experience of IIFA so far for you?
SA: IIFA's plus point that I get a chance to meet my heroine Liv Ullmann once again. I am overwhelmed by her film, a documentary, actually made on her, that I get an opportunity to spend time with her is a wild dream come true.
FS: She said some wonderful things about you. You had given her a saree that she has liked…
SA: That's very kind of her. This did happen the last time I met her in India. I didn't even know that she would remember and the minute she saw me, she mentioned the dress that I had given her. I was deeply moved.
FS: You said yesterday that Indian films have come of age and people are taking note of Indian cinema. You've been travelling a lot since many years and have been a part of many charities and organizations as well. What are your impressions as to how Indians perceive Indian cinema overseas and even the foreigners?
SA: Well, more importantly, how we perceive ourselves is the question that needs to be addressed especially as we celebrate 100 years of Indian Cinema. We should be comfortable with our identity. For a long time, we didn't even aspire to go beyond the reach of India in the pockets in which the diasporas exist because it was a large amount of population. But as the world shrinks and becomes a global village, you recognize that here's an opportunity for a two-way cultural exchange which is the only way it should be rather than the yardsticks from the West which are imposed on the East as what should be the standard of culture, whether in film or in theatre. We have struggled with the identity and have tried to tailor ourselves to fit with what the international standards of films are. So we say, let us remove song and dances, let's reduce the length, lets reduce the melodrama. Then we suddenly realized that we missed the woods for the trees. Or the other way round, we missed the trees for the woods! Now I think we are more comfortable accepting that our USP is the songs and dances are a necessary part of our collective memory and that's what we should also offer the world.
FS: You enjoyed Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) songs, I believe…
SA: Yes, and I enjoyed the film very much.
FS: A book that came out recently 'Bollywood's Top 20' which basically chronicles the top 20 stars of Bollywood since the time of K L Saigal. What bothered me personally is that it didn't feature you and Naseeruddin Shah. Do you feel that the entire star system versus creative-artistic cinema divide persists in Bollywood?
SA: Not at all and I think it's completely changed because if you see what a courageous actor like Vidya Balan is doing today, earlier you would have thought that it would fall within the realm of parallel cinema. But now it is become a representative of mainstream cinema. And that's the way it ought to be. I think actors particularly should be able to work in both kinds of films with ease. From the one, they get a certain kind of satisfaction and from the other, they get another kind of satisfaction. I am seeing that more and more actors are recognizing that there is something of worth maybe even if you sacrifice the amount of money that you would get in normal mainstream film. But if the role is worth, then it's well worth doing.
FS: Many actresses would want to model themselves on you. Does this flatter you? Do they come to you for advice?
SA: They are extremely respectful because I have been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, more than any ability on my part. But I do think at this stage of my career that I would like to give back. And if younger people would come to me for advice, I would be very happy to give.
FS: How has your mother, actress Shaukat Azmi, influenced you?
SA: She has been a tremendous influence on me. My relationship with my father, Kaifi Azmi, is the most celebrated one. But the fact is that I have learnt acting at my mother's feet. I saw her rehearse her part, how she would get into the skin of her character and it was almost by the process of osmosis that I learnt how to built characters. So, I owe my acting career by inspiring me, not by giving lectures but by being the kind of actors that she has been.
FS: You do very few films. Why is it so?
SA: This year, in fact, I have done three films. So I just finished Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children, Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Vishal Bhardwaj's Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. So you are going to see quite a lot of me.
FS: Looking forward to Farhan's hosting at the IIFA Awards?
SA: Yes of course and I hope that Farhan brings to the anchoring lots of entertainment but at certain decency. Unfortunately in the last few awards shows which I have watched, there has seeped in a lot of crassness under the guise of humour and particularly at the expense of women. And I am sure Farhan will be mindful of that and so would be Shahid.
FS: Farhan is multi-talented but his best talent is his acting. Do you agree to that? How do you rate him as an actor?
SA: I think he is a very fine actor and was wonderful in ZNMD. I expect a lot from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag where he's playing Milkha Singh because he's really worked hard to make it look realistic. So I hope to see a completely transformed Farhan in it