The versatile Shabana Azmi, who turned 57 this year, believes in aging gracefully and says she hardly uses any beauty therapy. The actress gives her "interest in life" credit for her glowing skin.
You don't seem the least conscious of your age?
The world is expanding and accommodating older people gracefully: and not just in cinema. I don't even dye my hair much to the annoyance of my friends because they feel everyone knows they dye their hair when they're with me. They want to kill me because they've been dying their hair for the last 10 years, while I just have a few grey hairs at 56. I've no problem with dying my hair for a role. But in real life, forget it!
You are 57, and glowing like a magic lamp.
I think part of it comes from me being a Virgo. And as clichéd as it may sound, my glow comes from being interested in life. Of course, I'm not passionate about everything I do, how can I be? But I'm focused on the important things in life. This I have inherited from my father (poet Kaifi Azmi) who until the age of 82 continued to be involved with life.<b1>
You've just featured in a nice frothy comedy.
Yes, The Loins Of Punjab Presents and its director Manish Acharya belongs to the same group of filmmakers who inhabit an upper middleclass English-speaking world as Farhan Akhtar. These people are as much Indian directors as Shyam Benegal. I did Loins... without meeting Manish. I had a small role in the ensemble cast. I don't know how he did it living in New York. I see this as the new confident India. Today we're confident about taking our song-dance-melodrama formula to the West. This is the real Indian cinema, and they 'd better accept it.
You've achieved way beyond our expectations. What about yours?
I never planned anything. And besides, achievement is a very subjective concept. I've done whatever I've been compelled to do, and I've done it all to the best of my abilities. If I've been recognised or honoured for what I've done then those are bonuses, not the reason for doing what I did.
But Naseeruddin Shah told me you believe actors work consciously towards getting awards?
Naseer feels actors shouldn't at all be conscious of the fact they may win an award. But actors, at the end of it all, are actors. How can they be completely impervious of the end-result of their performances?
Did awards become addictive for you?
Not at all! The awards happened because those films happened to me at the right time. The kind of parts that have come my way recently were unimaginable earlier for an actress my age... Look at Morning Raga, Saaz, Godmother, Fire, Tehzeeb - these are well-structured nuanced characters. Did anyone think 10 years ago that actresses in our films would get such roles? Ten years ago it was pack-up time for heroines at 30. All you could do was hold a thali in a white sari.<b2>
Whether it's Amitabh Bachchan or any of us, we are not made to play younger people. Look at poor Nirupa Roy. She got substantial roles, but at 30 they made her put grey in her hair. And Achala Sachdev was all of 16 when she played 60. She quit because she got nightmares about dropping a thali and screaming, 'Nahin !'. You know an actor or any other human being needs to be comfortable in her space at whatever age she is.
Do you miss not being a mother?
Not really. There was a point in my life when I was deeply shocked I couldn't be a mother because I took it for granted that everything normal would happen to me. But that period quickly vanished. I must thank Honey (Javed's first wife) for being so gracious and sharing her children with me. Farhan and Zoya are my children. I feel very proud of them.
On the other hand I feel it's wrong for women in our society to be made to feel incomplete just because they are not mothers. Just like my character in Deepa Mehta's Fire. Because I was involved in so many other areas of life and so many productive activities, I wasn't judged for not being a mother. There was no pressure on me for not having children. But I'm sure it'd have been wonderful to have children. And, yes, I've never had time for any regrets.
No regrets at all?
Only one. If I knew how to cook!