By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, (IANS) Not too many people know that Shabana Azmi was once supposed to play Benazir Bhutto in a film to be directed by noted British-Pakistani author-playwright and filmmaker Tariq Ali.
Tariq Ali, who has done a celebrated play "The Leopard & The Fox" on the arrest and execution of Benazir's father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had readied the screenplay in 1982-83 for his proposed Benazir biopic with Shabana in the lead. Shabana had begun to prepare for the part, studying Benazir's body language and also getting the required haircut to look completely credible.
But then politics intervened. Because of differences between India and Pakistan, the hush-hush project was quietly abandoned. Shabana was disappointed.
"I know I can physically resemble Benazir. Once that is in place, the rest would just follow," the actress had admitted at that time.
Now almost 25 years after the proposed film's premature debacle, Shabana says she's all set to play Benazir.
"My god! I thought I was the only one who remembered the Benazir project. I'd love to play Benazir in a film," Shabana told IANS.
"I've met her twice. We got along really well. Once Benazir and her mom came to Columbia University to listen to my lecture. Another time in Delhi, Benazir and I were seated at the same table. I was an MP then and she was keen to know my experiences," Shabana recalled.
"I was very moved by her book 'Daughter Of The East'. By a strange coincidence, the day after I finished reading her book she had become prime minister. We had many common friends, including Tariq Ali," she added.
Would Tariq Ali revive the project? According to sources, the talented author has been keen to do the film, and had even obtained Benazir's permission for the endeavour. Chances are the project would be revived posthumously since there's an incredible degree of curiosity and sentimentality about Benazir's life.
"Benazir has now become a part of the same enduring romance that Princess Diana represents. The Shabana-Tariq Ali project stands a good chance at this time," said a source close to the project.