'To this day, I find faults in my performance. If people are sitting next to me and watching it and I feel I haven't given that shot properly, I quickly give them popcorn or something to distract them.'
'The biggest challenge for me in Neerja was that I don't like animals and in the very first shot, this dog came and licked me all over the face. I pretended that this happens everyday but from inside, I was so annoyed.'
Shabana Azmi shows us a different side.
Shabana Azmi has a curious take on actors.
She thinks they are neurotic and mad!
The hugely talented actress, who will play mother to Sonam Kapoor in Neerja, explains her views to Jahnavi Patel/ Rediff.com.
Apart from Neerja's bravery during the terrorist act, Neerja is also a film about a mother-daughter relationship. What made you take it up?
I liked the script and thought this story needed to be told.
I thought it would be inspiring for youngsters, particularly girls, because Neerja is an ordinary girl. She isn't Jhansi Ki Rani, who is able to look at fear in the eye.
When I first met Neerja's mother, Ramaji, the film was not in the making. I was asked by the family to present the Neerja Bhanot Award For Bravery in Chandigarh.
I met Ramaji and really liked her. I was struck by her spiritedness and her warmth.
When I was going to play the part, I felt it was very important for me to keep that spirit alive. Rama was an ordinary mother, who is concerned about her daughter.
In order to see her spark, the film opens with a song where everybody is dancing in a building's society party. She dances and sings too, and you can see her spirit. You can sense that there's something more to her than the regularity of her appearance.
Did meeting Rama Bhanot help you prepare for your character?
I wasn't required to look or speak like her but I had to get her spirit right. If I had not met her, I wouldn't have played the character the way I did.
From the trailer, we can see that you share a good equation with Sonam Kapoor.
There's this scene where I wake her up by cuddling her, and people have remarked a lot about it.
Ram (Madhvani, director) said he did not want it done in the conventional way. I told him that the one thing I do even today is when I wake up, I go to my mother's bed and cuddle her from the back.
So I asked him if I should do that, rather than sit and wake her up.
He was very excited with that idea. We did not tell Sonam we were going to do that, so it came as a huge surprise to her. It's to her credit that she kept up her sleepiness and do it like something like we do everyday.
There's a kind of warmth because it isn't prepared.
I have a degree of comfort with her because she has grown up in front of me.
Was there any emotional scene in Neerja, where you actually broke down?
Yes, there's a scene when her body is brought and her mother has to see that body. Obviously, that was difficult.
Then there's the last scene, where the mother talks about her daughter. It's very beautifully written by Sanyuktha Chawla Sheikh. I had to do justice to those lines.
I got it right in the first take but then I needed to do a second and third take because it had to be taken from various angles. When you do a deeply emotional scene, you have to be very careful in the subsequent takes that you don't imitate what you've done in the first take. Imitation will not make it truthful. You have to feel that emotion all over again, and it's tough.
Has there been any situation where you're required to emote something that's opposite to what you are feeling?
That's why actors are neurotic, and I genuinely believe that.
Sometimes you may have had a really bad fight at home and then come on set and do a romantic scene. Sometimes you may have come from happiness and laughter and then have to do something emotional.
The demand of actors is what makes them neurotic because civilised behaviour is about people controlling their emotions. Actors need to be in a state of emotional preparedness where at a click of a button, you need to get Emotion Number 37 out and when the camera goes off, put the emotion back inside. That's why actors are mad.
Do you think there's a dearth of characters and good films for you?
Not at all. This is the best time for actors of all ages.
Look at the parts I have done. I played an unconventional woman in Jazbaa, a strong character in Chalk N Duster, a strong character in Capital, which is a mini series for BBC...
I just did a play called Happy Birthday Sunita for RIFCO Arts, which was again a very strong character.
I'm getting emotional, funny and villainous parts too.
What motives you as a person and as an actor?
As an actor, you need to be connected with life.
Your resource base needs to be life itself because an actor is her own instrument. For instance, if I were to play the sitar, my skill would depend on the dexterity of my fingers and how finely tuned the sitar is. But in the case of an actor, it's only me: my body, my head, my mind, my voice and my spirit that I can dig into.
The whole process of becoming a star divorces you from reality.
As a person, curiosity keeps me motivated. I am interested in everything, except games.
The biggest challenge for me in Neerja was that I don't like animals and in the very first shot, this dog came and licked me all over the face. I pretended that this happens everyday but from inside, I was so annoyed.
Are you self-critical? How do you feel when you watch yourself on screen?
I am quite critical.
To this day, I find faults in my performance. If people are sitting next to me and watching it and I feel I haven't given that shot properly, I quickly give them popcorn or something to distract them.
I was so neurotic, I'm not anymore. But I used to want to go to the lab and rob the shot where I did not perform properly. I had such fantasies!
Would you like any event of your life to be made into a film?
The life of my parents would make a great film.
I do a play called Kaifi Aur Main, based on the life of my parents. It's a lovely play.
Begum Akhtar's life should be made into a film. My mother has a great resemblance to her, and in 1984, (Umrao Jaan director) Muzaffar Ali wanted to make Begum Akhtar with my mother and me, where she would play the older Begum Akhtar and I would play the younger one. Now, I'll have to play the older one and we'll have to find someone for the younger one.
Who are the women who inspire you?
My mother, Shaukat Kaifi. I admire her greatly as an actress, and also admire the kind of person she is.
I admire Medha Patkar. It's extraordinary what she has achieved.
I admire Meryl Streep for being the kind of actress that she is.