'I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I do not rate myself as excellent.'
"I was trained to look for truth in a performance and have, once in a while, managed to achieve it when the script and the director are great," Shabana Azmi tells Subhash K Jha on her 71st birthday.
I can't believe you are 71. Tell me about your birthday plans?
Till yesterday, I was supposed to be shooting on my birthday for Karan Johar's film. But now, I've got the day off, so very close friends will be coming over for tea, which I love.
Any special gift you would like to receive on this birthday?
During the pandemic, my friends and I decided we will not buy new presents for occasions. Instead, we will part with something from our own cupboards so that we consciously work towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
I would really advocate this for those of us who have an overflow of material things.
I have personally never been compelled to give to celebrate an occasion.
When I come across something I feel will be liked by someone, I pick it up for them. I don't wait for an occasion.
Very few actors in this country, or anywhere in the world, have achieved your level of excellence. How do you look back on your career?
Aisa kuch nahin hai, Subhash. Channe ke jhaad pe mat chadhao (That's not true. Don't praise me so much).
I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I do not rate myself as excellent.
I was trained to look for truth in a performance and have, once in a while, managed to achieve it when the script and the director are great.
A film is a collaborative medium and no actor can rise above the script.
Trump found Meryl Streep overrated. How would you react to anyone who feels the same about you?
I am very open to an honest appraisal of my work and I listen carefully to criticism, provided it comes without an agenda.
I hope I never become smug about my work because acting is about learning anew every day.
The last two years have been hard. How has the pandemic treated you? How have you coped with it?
I was working almost all through the pandemic -- first in Budapest for Steven Spielberg's Halo and then in London for What's Love Got To Do With It in very tight bio-bubbles.
We also spent a lot of time in our Khandala (a hill station near Mumbai) home, Sukoon, where the family got to spend a lot of time together, which was wonderful.
I was also managing all the relief and rehabilitation efforts by my NGO, Mijwan Welfare Society.
What has the pandemic taught you?
The pandemic taught me to live in the here and now and to distinguish between need and want.
COVID-19 is not only a health disaster; it is also social disaster where the difference between the haves and have-nots has become even more clearly defined.
It is a time to give till it hurts.
You have been a source of inspiration for generations of people. What is your advice to the coming generation?
Main koi guru nahin hoon (I am not a guru) to give advice.
I think we have a lot to learn from the younger generation. They are wired differently but, instead of listening to them, we keep lecturing them.
I grew up in a democratic family where due consideration was given to both my opinion and my brother Baba's opinion.
We need to have less hierarchical and more interactive relationships with the young.
My father never gave advice without being asked.
I have to confess both my mother and I did so quite freely and frequently!
I'm now learning to curb this habit.
Finally, at a time when marriages are falling apart everywhere, what is the secret of the longevity of your marriage with Javedsaab?
Javed and I belong to the same world.
We were really meant to be together.
We respect each other's work and also push to make the other work harder.
When I had to sing for Aparna Sen's Sonata, I came away a trifle dissatisfied after the first recording. He chewed my brains to get Aparna to re-do it.
Today, when I get so many compliments for it, I credit both Aparna and Jadu in equal measure.
Do you two have the usual share of marital squabbles?
If I find a song he is writing is not his best, I push him too.
Obviously, the area in which I have no say is his poetry.
I fancy myself his stylist and get distraught when he is careless about what he wears.
Pat comes his reply, "Log meri baatein sunne aate hain, mere kapde dekhne nahi (People come to hear what I have to say, not to see what I am wearing)!" I say, "Bhai sunne bhi aate hain aur dekhne bhi. Koi aankh pe patti to nahi bandh lete na (They come to hear you and to see you. Nobody comes blindfolded)!" And this nok jhonk (argument) continues.
Of course, we have our differences and are very vocal about them, but the commonalities are mercifully more.
I feel that there can be no relationship more nurturing than a healthy marriage.
Any unfulfilled dreams and desires at 71?
I don't want much; I just want MORE. Ask what I want and I will sing I want more of everything.. everything... courtesy, Barbara Streisand in A Star Is Born.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/ Rediff.com