“I don’t want to be treated like a goddess; treat me like an equal and I will show you what I can do,” says veteran actress Shabana Azmi, who was in the city to preside over the Neerja Bhanot Award function. Social activist, philanthropist, feminist and one of the finest actresses of India’s parallel cinema movement, Shabana is known for her efforts in trying to empower the girl child. “Indian women don’t want to be treated like a devi. They don’t want to be put on a pedestal and worshipped. We demand equality; nothing less, nothing more,” she said.
The daughter of noted poet Kaifi Azmi and actress-activist Shaukat Kaifi, Shabana says it was natural for her to follow in her parents’ footsteps and take their work forward, particularly that of educating people in Urdu and keeping her father’s NGO, located in Mijawan, Azamgarh village, alive. “Kaifi saab believed that for us to truly bring about change in India, we need to focus on villages that make
this country what it is and empower the girl child. My father was a rare man who followed what he said,” says Shabana, with pride.
She believes that for feminism to be taken seriously, the notion of masculinity needs to change. Hailed by the late Satyajit Ray as “India’s finest dramatist”, Shabana says being a woman professional in Indian cinema during the time when all an actress was expected to do was dance, was never easy. Narrating an incident from her groundbreaking movie ‘Arth’, she says the story was, at that time, unthinkable. “An Indian woman leaving her husband was appreciated, but the distributors wanted us to change the ending, where I don’t go back to him. But we refused.”
For any real change to occur in filmmaking sensibilities, she believes that it has to happen in mainstream cinema, for parallel and indie cinema have already witnessed positive transformations .Expressing agony over the recent passing of her friend and actor Farooq Sheikh, a teary-eyed Shabana says, “When we were staging our play, ‘Tumhari Amrita’, in front of the Taj Mahal last year, I believed it was time to bring the curtains down. But Farooq disagreed and said the play would go on for 22 more years. But 14 days later, he was dead. ”On a lighter note, when asked if Farhan Akhtar and Zoya would ever cast her in one of their films, she laughed and said: “It would be easier to convince Steven Spielberg to cast me.” She added, “You can accuse me of nepotism but along with Hrithik Roshan, I believe my son Farhan is also a very gifted actor. ”As for the mellifluous Urdu language, she believes it suffered a blow due to the politics of Partition. “It is seen as a religious language now and not as a regional one. India’s greatest strength is its pluralistic culture, something I am a proud product of,” she said signing off.