'I used to be embarrassed and think what will my friends say if I wiggle my hips.'
'I used to seek comfort in the fact that Meena Kumari and Nutan couldn’t dance.'
'I think that was a mistake.'
Shabana Azmi turns 72 today, September 18, but she remains one of the busiest actors in India.
After receiving two standing ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival for her film What's Love Got To Do With It, she tells Subhash K Jha, "In Hindi cinema, substantial roles for senior actors are being written and I am grateful that I have been getting some meaty roles in this phase of my career."
As you turn a year older, what are your thoughts on the way things are for you and the world around you?
The world has definitely changed post COVID.
It has been a stressful period and the repercussions will be felt for a long time.
I hope the coming years will see a greater articulation of our need for each other and a sense of gratitude that the worst is hopefully behind us.
I have done a lot of introspection and feel that we have more than we need of everything.
I want to simplify my life and follow the dictum: Give till it hurts.
Looking back at your unprecedented career, do you feel a sense of pride and satisfaction?
I am lucky to have been at the right place at the right time.
With Ankur, the parallel cinema movement started in Hindi films and I was fortunate to get a spate of strong women characters that broke the prevalent norms of the time.
When I did John Schlesinger's Madame Sousatzka with Shirley MacLaine in 1988, it was very rare to get an Indian actor in such a major role.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was writing the script and suggested that it might be good to change the Jewish mother into an Indian one.
John Schlesinger agreed that Asians were becoming such a strong part of the British fabric that they deserved the visibility hitherto denied to them.
The myth that actresses beyond 35 do not get meaty roles was effectively demolished by you. How easy or tough is it for you to still gets powerful parts?
In Hindi cinema, substantial roles for senior actors are being written and I am grateful that I have been getting some meaty roles in this phase of my career.
I continue to be a very hardworking actor and never allow my years of experience to make me smug.
Nothing can be worse for an actor than overconfidence.
Of course, you need confidence but when you step over the line and start getting complacent, trust me, that performance is doomed.
I have realised that acting excites me more than anything else, so I look forward to meaningful roles and would like to carry on working till the end.
Do you feel that actresses beyond a certain age have better opportunities than they did 20 years ago?
Times have been changing.
The women's movement all over the world has pushed to give greater visibility to women as equals.
Some of that trickles down into the arts as well.
Audience tastes are changing and producers realise it makes economic sense to make women-oriented films as long as you keep the budgets under check.
We need to change that: make a bouquet of big-budget women-centric films.
I am satisfied with the parts I'm getting but like I always quote Barbra Streisand, 'I don't want much, I just want more.'
If you had to change anything in your life or career, what would it be?
It would be that I should have worked harder to succeed at doing the song and dance routine.
I used to be embarrassed and think what will my friends say if I wiggle my hips.
I used to seek comfort in the fact that Meena Kumari and Nutan couldn't dance.
I think that was a mistake.
I should have faced up to the fact that I could not do it well and that's why I made up excuses.
That time would have been better spent in rehearsal and mastering it.
I am amazed at how adept the new girls are with all the jhatkas and matkas.
I realise that if you embrace an art form, it is your business to do it well instead of making excuses.
You have played practically everything from the oppressed to the repressed to the liberated. Which is the one role you still long to play?
I don't really know.
If I did, I would have asked Jadu (husband Javed Akhtar) to write that role for me!
You recently shot with Karan Johar for his film Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani. How was the experience?
I loved working with Karan.
He is extremely respectful and also very funny.
Between him and Manish Malhotra, I was cajoled into creating a look for me that belongs to the KJo world!
Ranveer (Singh) and Alia (Bhatt) are great to work with.
I wish I had more scenes with Jaya (Bachchan).
Dharamji (Dharmendra) was utterly charming.
How was the experience of reuniting with Shekhar Kapur in What's Love Got To Do With It? How has he changed as a director?
Shekhar loves his actors and inspires them to give their best.
We got two standing ovations at the film's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
What next for you?
I am heading into the second season of Steven Spielberg's Halo in October.
Beyond that, there are other things happening.
I want to keep on working until I can.