“I feel that there can be no relationship more nurturing than a healthy marriage” – says Shabana Azmi about her marriage with Javed Akhtar as she turns 71

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Veteran star Shabana Azmi turns 71 and talks about her life, pandemic, working during these tough times and more.

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 this birthday?
During the pandemic, my friends and I decided we will not buy new presents for occasions. Instead we will part with something in our own cupboards to consciously work towards a more sustainable lifestyle. I would really advocate that for those of us who have an overflow of material things. I have personally never been compelled to give for occasions. I come across something I feel will be liked by someone and pick it up without 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 pey mat chadhao. I have been lucky to be at 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. 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 a new learning every day

The last two years have been hard on civilization. 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-bubble. Also, we spent a lot of time in our Khandala 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 made by my NGO Mijwan Welfare Society.

What has the pandemic taught you?
What the pandemic taught me is to live in the here and now. Also to learn to distinguish between need and want. Covid-19 was not only a health disaster it was a social disaster where the difference between the haves and have nots became even more clearly defined. It has been a time of giving till it hurts.

You have been a source of inspiration for generations of women and men. What is your advice to coming generations of Indians?
Main koi guru nahin hoon to give advice. I think we have a lot to learn from the younger generation. They are wired differently and 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. 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 myself did so quite freely and frequently!! I’m now learning to curb it.

Finally, at a time when marriages are falling apart everywhere, what is the secret of the longevity of your marriage with Javed Akhtar?
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 (Javed) 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, in the area, I have no say is in 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!” I say, “Bhai sunne bhi aate hain aur dekhne bhi. Koi aankh pey patti to nahi bandh lete na!” And this nok jhonk continues. Ofcourse, 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 .

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