Movie Masala

Shabana Azmi talks about how Bollywood is changing for the better and why she is in a ‘happy place’ at this stage of her life

Written by Shruti Misra

Shabana Azmi says the filmmaking in Bollywood is changing for the better and she is in a “happy place” at this stage of her life.

Talking to Reuters about her new film The Black Prince, which is based on the life of Punjab’s last king Duleep Singh, Shabana, who plays Rani Jindan, the queen mother who stood up to the might of the British empire and fought to regain her son’s kingdom, says: ” I am in a very happy place at the moment. There are parts available for much older people that you didn’t have earlier. Earlier at 30, a girl’s career was over. Now, all of our top actresses are above 30 and doing well. This year alone, I have five very different releases. There is “The Black Prince”; then there is “Eidgah”, which is based on Munshi Premchand’s story of the relationship between a child and his grandmother. I had a release called “Sonata” which was directed by Aparna Sen, and then a lovely American film called “Signature Move”, which is doing the festival rounds.

“I cannot remember a time in my life when I had such varied parts. I had a lot of substantial, very dramatic parts, but never varied. It is a happy time.”

She also feels the gap in filmmaking between the West and Bollywood is also narrowing.

“I think the gap is becoming less and less. Bollywood, till very recently, worked in an alternative reality. Not much was needed even from the actors. In this alternative reality that was Bollywood, representative acting was enough – if you raise your eyebrows, you are surprised; and if you cry, you are sad. It is like dance – you represent the emotion. All that is happily changing. After it was declared as an industry and legit money started coming in, actors were then given the choice of making one film at a time. We were (earlier) doing 12 films at a time. The fact that we could remember our lines was more than enough.

“Ten years ago, you could be rockstar (in a film) and not play a guitar. In “Karz”, Rishi Kapoor was not playing any chords on his guitar and we were perfectly okay with it. Today, it would be unthinkable, even to him, that he could get away with that.

As far as her role of Rani Jindan, the queen mother in The Black Prince, Shabana says she knew very little of her. “When I was given the script, I was really amazed by it. “Is this really true,” I asked. And they said “yes.” Obviously, some of it has been dramatised, but I found the character very compelling. She comes from a place where she wants to undo the injustice that has been done to her family. She has scant respect for the British. I did feel it was a story that needed to be told. The producer of the film is also a historian and felt so strongly about the subject, and I always judge by that. More than just a film, it was a passage in history that hasn’t been remembered.

“The Black Prince”, which also has Satinder Sartaj and Jason Flemyng in lead roles, releases worldwide on July 21.

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Shruti Misra

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