grand ma’am shabana azmi – some book excerpts

01/12/2017

When the grand dame of filmi protests makes facile statements about secularism, women’s rights and lefts, it is important that certain other facets of her character are also brought out.

May grand ma’am Shabana Azmi be the mother of a THOUSAND protests!

Some excerpts from a 1990 book, follow – I have not edited the text apart from some boldfacing)

..Azmi was a serious artist who began her career in India’s highbrow art films, then crossed over into the commercial cinema because, she said, “I saw it as something that would get me stardom.

…That it did, and her fees increased, although Azmi could never command the prices of Sridevi. Instead she shuttled between the serious cinema and shlock and argued that the name she made for herself in her popular movies brought more attention to the small-budget films in which she played strong women who fought back.

In recent years, Azmi had worked much less than the other actresses, but her few well-chosen roles helped spread her reputation in the West, where she was a favorite choice of directors who needed Indian women in their films. Azmi was cast in Bengali Nights, a French film shot outside Calcutta, and played the doting mother of a brilliant young piano student in Madame Souzatska, which starred Shirley MacLaine.

Azmi also had the time, and inclination, for using her status as an actress to further her political interests. Although the press sometimes criticized her for trifling with serious political causes as a hobby, in some instances she had the influence to make a difference. In 1986, for example, Azmi went on a hunger strike that moved the Maharashtra state government to make some concessions to find housing for slum dwellers whose paper shacks and hovels had been callously razed by Bombay authorities. “I knew there was absolutely no way they were going to let me die,” she said of the strike, which lasted only a few days.

I first met Azmi at her beach cottage, a small house of dark wood…

…Her status as an “artist,” however, had not made her insufferable, and she turned out to be lively, gossipy and no more narcissistic than anyone else.

Azmi, like so many others, had fallen in love with a married man. But because she was a “serious” actress who espoused feminism, the gossip press made more of the affair than usual. Some fans even called her a hypocrite.

“Here is a woman,” Azmi said of herself, “who believes in liberation and women’s rights, and then she just goes and snatches a man away from his wife?”

…Her case was more convoluted than most. The man, one of the industry’s top screenwriters, was a lifelong Muslim who ended his first marriage by making the simple unilateral declaration prescribed by Muslim law.

As a feminist, Azmi said, she found it difficult to accept his divorce because she felt Muslim religious law was unfair to women. But love triumphed and she married him anyway. “I went through hell,” she said. “It was only in the final analysis that I felt that nothing was worth giving up my man for.”

…A year later I ran into Azmi again, this time in a remote corner of the state of West Bengal, where she was on location for Sati, a film set in a village 150 years ago. Sati was an art film… …written and directed by another favorite of the feminists, Aparna Sen, a former actress who had become one of India’s leading film directors. She had taken the title from a sati that occurred at the beginning of the film, and also from a more mystical kind of “sati” at the end.

I was there on the day the wedding scene was shot, a torturously hot afternoon in mid-May. The film unit had set up under an enormous banyan tree on the banks of the Ganges, in a village that was a seven-hour drive north of Calcutta. A knob of the tree had been draped, like a groom, with a garland of hibiscus flowers. Azmi wore a red-and-white wedding sari as she was led around the tree seven times and then sat down in the shade by its trunk for the marriage ceremony, led by a Brahmin priest. In front of him, on a large banana leaf, were offerings: flowers, papayas, chilies, coconuts, cucumbers, potatoes. The scene was bizarre, but Sen and Azmi were working hard to make it both credible and tragic. I stood transfixed, as did more than five hundred present-day villagers, roped off behind police lines. A scorching wind and an intermittent sun made filming difficult, so there were long breaks between shots when I could talk to Azmi about her feminism, her career and her family. Like Amitabh Bachchan, she had come from a privileged background. Her father, like Bachchan’s, was a poet, and both her parents had been active in India’s Communist party.

…After another scene the conversation continued, this time on the subject of motherhood. “I want to have a baby immediately,” Azmi said, “but I want to get this film over with first.” She would be thirty-six in a few months. “I don’t feel like an incomplete woman because I haven’t had a child,” she said. “But everybody keeps pushing it into my head.

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I would hate to write about all this personal stuff – but these are all parts of a book.

So much for a selfish, self-absorbed critter of a person who is also servile and confirms to non-feminist values.

This by itself is not bad. Every critter including myself is self-absorbed. However, the double standards of these folks are the ones that are galling!

Especially when she pontificates about all eternal values and secularism and human rights and feminism. (After snatching away a husband of another hapless woman – Javed Akhtar – who, as his contribution, did this dastardly triple talaq thing to get rid of his first wife!)

Such is the true character of these intellectuals and activists.

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The 1990 book is: May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons: A Journey Among the Women of India written by Elisabeth Bumiller. I read it in 1992. Not a great book, but was interesting enough for a nearly 30yr old in me, who was unhealthily into feminism, communism and all that…

 

May grand ma’am Shabana Azmi be the mother of a THOUSAND protests! Yeah!

END.

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