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Hum Tum Shabana: Get to know the woman behind the histrionics

Even as the actress turns 66 next Sunday, Shabana Azmi’s movies and life continues to evoke a certain ideology and romance.

brunch Updated: Sep 11, 2016 14:12 IST
Aasheesh Sharma
As the daughter of a poet who wore his political leanings on his sleeve, Shabana Azmi lgrew up in Mumbai in the office of the Communist Party, along with the family of fellow comrade and iconic poet Ali Sardar Jafri
As the daughter of a poet who wore his political leanings on his sleeve, Shabana Azmi lgrew up in Mumbai in the office of the Communist Party, along with the family of fellow comrade and iconic poet Ali Sardar Jafri(HT Archives)

A week from now (on September 18), Shabana Azmi will turn 66. In the summer of ’74, the brilliant actress began working in the movies the year West Germany won the football World Cup, Chris Evert and Jimmy ‘Jimbo’ Connors declared their love on the Wimbldeon Centre Court and in another part of the world, I happened to be born.

In 1974, the daughter of iconic lyricist Kaifi Azmi and actress Shaukat was taking baby steps into Bollywood. Apart from making a mark for herself in Shyam Benegal’s Ankur on debut, she also acted in Dev Anand’s multi-star dud Ishq, Ishq, Ishq featuring one-time beau Shekhar Kapoor.

Yes, before he made a name for himself as the suave director of Masoom, for many years, Kapoor was better known as Shabana Azmi’s boyfriend.

Her histrionics continue to bedazzle us. Shabana has acted in movies for as many years as I’ve walked the earth. But this article is not a take on her brilliant filmography (Check her out playing the distraught mother to Sonam Kapoor in Neerja and you’ll know what I am talking about!)

What interests me more about Shabana are the old-fashioned feelings of romance and poetry that her persona evokes and to an extent the kind of people she worked with.

For most people growing up in the 1980s, the way I did, it was fashionable to worship Amitabh Bachchan. A few of us wanted to defy the herd mentality though, just for the heck of it. For a generation that grew up watching ’80s Hindi films on video cassette recorders (remember those clunky contraptions?), raving about Vinod Khanna/Shashi Kapoor and swearing by the acting prowess of Sanjeev Kumar was the cool thing to do.

In an interview to a men’s magazine, Shabana said Javed Akhtar and she spent entire nights reciting poetry to each other (HT Archives)

So, even when Shabana danced around trees with her one-time crush Shashi in the pedestrian Fakira, my friends and I were cheering the loudest. And when she romanced not Amitabh but Vinod Khanna in the blockbuster Amar, Akbar Anthony, she endeared herself further to the classes who didn’t swoon before the Big Bachchan.

When in Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi, she licks her lips pinning down her husband Mirza on the bed, who is obsessed with the 64-square chessboard instead, you feel like slapping him and paying a tribute to her acting skills. And when Raj Kiran serenades her with Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho in Arth, Mahesh Bhatt’s path-breaking take on extramarital affairs with the lines ‘Aankhon mein nami, hasin labon par, kya haal hai kya dikha rahe ho’ her eyes evoke such vulnerability that you feel like protecting her.

But a personal ode to Shabana needs to go beyond the big screen. You cannot separate the actor from her conscience.The kind of cinema that she did stood for certain ideologies and the parallel cinema wave of the 1980s.

As the daughter of a poet who wore his political leanings on his sleeve: she literally grew up in Mumbai in the office of the Communist Party, along with the family of fellow comrade and iconic poet Ali Sardar Jafri. That her heart was in the right place was clear in the stands she took for the deprived and the exploited, in her stint as a Parliamentarian.

But the most incredible anecdote about Shabana that has stayed with me involves Javed Akhtar, the wordsmith and poet married to her. In an interview to a now-defunct men’s magazine published out of Bombay, the poet and his actress wife revealed how Javed (she knew him as poet Jan Nisar Akhtar’s son) used to visit her home to meet her baba (Kaifi Azmi) to discuss Urdu talafuzz and how even many years of marriage, they spend entire nights reciting poetry to each other. Now that’s what I call romance!

Follow the writer on Twitter at @Aasheesh74

From HT Brunch, September 10, 2016

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