Shabana Azmi
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Shabana Azmi: Need more original writing in theatre..

Shabana Azmi


Mumbai, Nov. 27 -- Shabana Azmi has managed to straddle both cinema and theatre for years now. Even now, as she divides her time between both mediums, she says acting on stage as well as in films helps hone her creative expressions.

Currently, she is touring with her new stage production, Happy Birthday Sunita. With 37 shows to its credit within just a few months of its premiere in London, UK, the comedy has travelled to Birmingham, Yorkshire and is currently being staged in Dubai. It then premieres in the city on December 2, at NCPA, Nariman Point. We caught up with the 64-year-old for an interaction before she left for Dubai. She spoke about her role in the play, and a special screening of her unreleased film, Libaas (1988), among other things.

It's been a while since the city's audience has seen you in a new play. Could you tell us a little about it.

Goldie Notay, who played my daughter in It's A Wonderful Afterlife (2010) asked me to read Happy Birthday Sunita's script. And, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Personally, I think we need more original writing in theatre today. And, Rifco Arts, the British theatre company that's producing the play, does exactly that; it promotes only original scripts. So, I decided to go with the flow and the response has been overwhelming.

You have travelled a lot with the play in the west. How do you think the audience in India will react to it?

The theme is universal-it's never too late to follow your dream. In the drama, as a British-Punjabi family comes together to celebrate their daughter's 40th birthday, the mother shocks everyone by announcing that she wants to follow her dream. Thus, she acts as a catalyst in making everyone realise what they want from their lives. I think people in India will like that.

Do you connect with the character you play on any level?

Not really. I don't have any idea about cooking and, in my entire life, I have never entered a kitchen, but Tejpal Johal, my character in the play, spends a lot of time and money on revamping her kitchen. I had become a laughing stock for the entire production team. I would keep dropping and picking up things all the time on the set. However, we had a ball throughout.

Recently, your unreleased film, Libaas, directed by Gulzar, and co-starring Naseeruddin Shah, had a special screening at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa.

(laughs) Honestly, it was a big surprise for me. Nobody invited me, and I didn't know the film was going to be screened. I had received the Best Actress Award at the North Korean International Film Festival in 1993 for the film. It feels amazing that it's being showcased after 26 years, and is still being loved so much.

The content of the film (adultery and extra-marital affairs) was thought to be way ahead of its time back then. But can we hope to have a public release of the film today?

It was relevant back then and it is even now. And, of course I hope there will be a public release of the film in the coming years.

Over the past few months, we have had several autobiographies - Dilip Kumar's, Naseeruddin Shah's and Sachin Tendulkar's. Will we see you pen yours anytime soon?

People have been after my life for years now. Sure, I have thought about it, and there might be one someday, but right now my plate is too full with other projects to think about it. Also, at the moment, I am too engrossed in cooking (laughs), so I shall do one thing at a time.

We haven't seen you in any Bollywood project since Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (2013). Are you taking a break?

I have been busy with work. Recently, I finished shooting for an American film, The Black Prince, for which we actually shot inside the palace where Princess Diana grew up. It was an inexplicable experience. But that will take some time to hit the theatres. Also, early next year, I will be shooting for Sanjay Gupta's next starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Irrfan Khan.