Shabana Azmi’s one-woman play, Broken Images, completed a 50-show run last Sunday and in four days it will travel to the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC for yet another performance. "The last time I toured the US for a month, I had to let go of an international project with big names and an acclaimed director but it added to my confidence as an actor," says Azmi, pointing out that reacting to a pre-recorded image taken in one 440-minute first shot, requires split-second timing. "You miss your cues and you have no one to cover for you. But so far, the one-hour play has enjoyed a smooth run."
Azmi, whose character Pooja in Arth has become a role woman to women down the years, is in talks for two films revolving around strong, working women and how their career aspirations conflict with their traditional role as caregivers at different stages in their lives. The actor, who was recently on a panel discussion about the reasons for women not making it to senior positions in their profession, points out that it’s no longer sexual biases but their domestic commitments that are the hindrance.
"They are an asset to any organisation but need flexible timings, crèches and maternity benefits. The media can help too by projecting positive images of the working woman instead of stereotyping her as scheming and self-centred. The female gaze is important; we need more films like No One Killed Jessica," she asserts.
On a personal level, Azmi is working with the Mijwan Welfare Society to empower the girl child and enable her to grow into a confident, financially secure woman. She says "Manish Malhotra’s fashion show last month was a huge success and we are planning another big event."
‘Women’s Day is not tokenism’
Writes Shabana Azmi on female liberation
Gift your woman a diamond on International Women's Day to show her you care,” jumps out of newspapers, magazines and billboards around March 8. It bothers me that International Women’s Day is becoming like Valentine's Day, an opportunity for merchandise sale. Personally, I would prefer flowers to diamonds any day. A warm touch, a shared moment, a note of appreciation is precious too. Let's not reduce this into a marketing gimmick.
Then there is the oft-repeated remark, “every day should be women’s day, why one day? We don't need this tokenism!” I don't see it as tokenism. I think it’s important to celebrate Women’s Day because it brings focus to the issues we need to look at closely, but often do not. When we look at gender indexes around the world, we find that for all the strides women have made, there is an enormous amount of ground that needs to be covered. In developing countries, women suffer from lack of access to equal opportunity in education, health and employment in the formal sector. Even in the western world, we find very few women at senior management levels in large organisations. The rules of the game need to be changed so that women can participate in the decision-making process, so that they become active participants of policies that affect their lives.
India is a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously. We have people living in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and our people encapsulate all the contradictions that come from being a multi-cultural, multi-religious society, especially in the case of women. Our President, the speaker of the Lok Sabha, the leader of the ruling coalition, the leader of the opposition - are all women. But it is also true that female foeticide is still practised. Also the number of women we lose due to pregnancy-related issues annually is the same as having 400 airplane crashes in a year. Can you imagine what the reaction would be were that to happen? Governments would fall, but because these are poor rural women who are dying, nobody pays any attention.
When we celebrate Women’s Day, we salute the women who have struggled to pull themselves and others, out of the abyss of a patriarchal society. But it also must become a solemn moment for introspection; and an opportunity to rededicate ourselves as a nation, to provide the freedom that women deserve and need. My primary identity is that I am a woman and I celebrate Women’s Day in sisterhood. I look forward to a world in which women, when empowered, will transform the notion of power itself so it becomes about sharing and creating partnerships; rather than about the powerful dominating the weak.