As a self-confessed Shabana Azmi devotee; it’s next to impossible to pick up 4 best performances from her body of work because she is just brilliant in every film. However, as she completes 40 years in the Indian film industry, I share four characters/performances which I loved the most.
Shyam Benegal’s Ankur is one of my favorite films of all times. Interestingly, this was the first film of Shyam Benegal and Shabana Azmi who created the path for parallel or off-beat cinema as it is called now. Based on a true story, Ankur is a film that mirrors the brutal feudal system which prevailed in India and the evil social customs that had (still have) chained India. The beauty of Ankur is that it addresses various social issues from alcoholism and casteism to inequality and dowry; yet it is more about the underlying human relationships.
However, if I have to pick one reason as to why I love this film then it is because of Shabana Azmi who shines in the character of Lakshmi. She excels as a coy yet strong house servant who submits to her master who is attracted to her. We don’t know whether Lakshmi also loved her master or approved of the affair or whether she used him to get the child she had been yearning for. Her eyes speak of the emotions which churn within her. Ankur is truly class apart!
Another Benegal film and it is probably one of the most enjoyable characters played by Shabana Azmi on-screen. At an age of 33, Shabana played the character of ‘Rukmini’ who was a woman much ahead of her years and she delivered an incredibe performance. I remember Shabana Azmi sharing in an interview that how she had to put on weight & chew paan continuously to look the part. leads the film as Rukmini, the domineering but caring madame of the house. Her unusually loud tone with the ‘Hyderabadi’ accent and crudely unrefined mannerisms are brilliantly done, and it’s great to see her switching moods from angry to happy to suffering to motherly and loving. This is one of her most amazing performances.
3. Morning Raga
This happens to be one of the most challenging roles played by Shabana Azmi her career and unfortunately this remains her most under-rated performance. Playing a Carnatic singer is no mean feat but Shabana Azmi gets into the skin of the character and excels. She had undergone a great deal of training for this part in order to understand how Carnatic singers sing, their body language and mannerisms when they sing. She did not sing the songs but the lip-sync is done exceptionally well that one seldom realizes that someone else is singing.
Godmother was stated to be inspired by the life of Santokben Jadeja, who ran the Mafia operations in Gujarat in the late 1980s and later turned politician. Shabana Azmi got her fifth national award for the portrayal of ‘Rambhi’. Right from the accent to the body language, she gets it all correct. Shabana Azmi essays the ruthless confidence with great elan. I would be at a shortage of adjectives if I start writing about how much I loved her in the film.