Shabana Azmi is one of those celebrated actors whose immense range of characters spans a whole spectrum of Indian and international cinema, with her latest venture as a calm and sensible mum in the romcom ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It?’ now playing in cinemas in the UK and India.
Here, the gifted artist tells iGlobal about all the fun times during the shoot of the film in a Covid locked-down London, reuniting with director Shekhar Kapur after nearly 40 years and the relevance of “assisted marriages” in modern-day relationships.
What is your take on the central theme of arranged marriage in the film?
To the Westerner, an arranged marriage might seem like something which belongs to the 18th century. But now there is an understanding that maybe there has been some element of sagacity in having your parents, who know you best of all, trying to make what they call an assisted marriage.
That’s where you basically just get the couple to meet each other and if they like each other, then they can carry it from there.
In the West, we have different ideas of love and what I love very much about this project is the idea of ‘falling in like and walking into love’. That is a precious line.
Please tell us more about your character, Aisha Khan.
Aisha is the brains, she’s worldly, she knows how to conduct herself. I’ve played a lot of Pakistani characters in British films and television in the terrorist/victim/mother bracket, whereas this was something funny and lovely. It’s important in today’s world where everything seems to be so sombre and so dark to get something which is light and makes you feel good.
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What was it like shooting for the film under Covid lockdown rules in London?
When I came in, I was told by my family this is a crazy thing that you're doing because this was the height of Covid in London. But it was absolutely amazing how we managed to make the film in 40 days, which has to be a record for Shekhar Kapur. We adhered to a very strict protocol because we knew the stakes were so against us. But it just happened, and we had a lot of fun while doing it. At the end of the visit, it felt like we had just started and it's already over.
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What was it like working with Shekhar Kapur again after so many years?
You know, I felt as if there had never been a gap even though ‘Masoom’ [released in 1983] was so many years ago. The important thing about Shekhar is that he loves his actors and that is very comforting for an actor, to feel that the director is completely on your side.
So, it seems like a collaborative effort rather than that he has pushed you into doing something.
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What else is in store for you this year?
We are completing the second season of ‘Halo’ [Steven Spielberg produced television series based on a popular video game franchise] and that has earned me one very important fan in my nephew Viraj – who has never taken me seriously, but when he found out I was doing ‘Halo’, he looked at me with new eyes. And that to me has been the biggest bonus! But jokes apart, I didn't even know that there's a world that exists of ‘Halo’ lovers and it's been lots of fun.
I'm playing the character of Admiral Margaret Parangosky but I'm not asked to put on an accent and I speak exactly the way I do. We’ve got a Korean, a Canadian, an English person, people from all over the world and they all inhabit this universe without anybody having to play anything other than who they are. I really hope this kind of colour-blind characterisation permeates into other considerations when people are casting and that makes me very, very hopeful.
Besides, I'm doing very different things at the moment – there’s a film with Karan Johar called ‘Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani’, which is out in July. And, I'm also doing a film with R.Balki called ‘Ghoomar’ in which I play a cricket-loving grandmother, which is also out this year.