Art & Entertainment

Shabana Azmi: People Don't Really Associate Humour With Me

It was the lightness of "What's Love Got To Do With It?" that drew her to the romantic comedy, says Shabana Azmi, who believes cinegoers don't often associate her with humorous characters.

Shabana Azmi

It was the lightness of "What's Love Got To Do With It?" that drew her to the romantic comedy, says Shabana Azmi, who believes cinegoers don't often associate her with humorous characters.

Azmi reunited with Shekhar Kapur, the director of her 1983 family drama "Masoom", for his British feature project, which also stars Lily James, Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson and Sajal Aly.

"People forget that I have done humour. I mean, as far back as Shyam Benegal's 'Mandi', with the monkey running after me and stuff like that. I did it also in 'Honeymoon Travels' and films like that. But yes, people don't really associate humour with me although I've done it," the 72-year-old actor told PTI in an interview.

Light-hearted movies like "What's Love Got To Do With It?", Azmi believes, are the need of the hour.

"For me, the lightness of the film attracted me to do it strongly. In today's times, I think to have something that is all heart and that is light and that makes you feel warm and lovely, I think that's an emotion we really need to hold on to," she added.

“What’s Love Got to Do with It” is about Zoe (James), a modern British woman living in the messy world of ‘right swipes’ and ‘online dating’.

Having constantly tried and failed to find ‘Mr. Right’, Zoe is intrigued when her childhood buddy Kazim (Latif) decides to tie the knot in traditional ‘desi’ arranged marriage style. As Zoe decides to film her friend’s journey of turning a stranger into his soul mate, a hilarious adventure ensues.

Azmi essays the role of Kazim's mother Aisha, whom the veteran actor described as someone who is "all heart".

"Aisha Khan is a person that many women will be able to relate to because she is negotiating the cuff between tradition and modernity. At heart, she is traditional and wants to be modern.

"I know so many women like that for whom family is everything, but yet she has something more because otherwise why would Emma Thompson's character who's the neighbour, have such a lovely warm relationship with her. So anytime you get a character who's not all resolved and is trying to negotiate space, that's always more interesting than somebody who's completely resolved because then there's no conflict at all."

Asked about sharing the screen space with her British counterpart Thompson, Azmi said they became friends in an instant.

"She came to see me at my house where I was staying in London and sent me a message saying 'I'm a little early.' I went running down and was like, 'This was Emma Thompson.' And then we just bonded."

Azmi said she and Thompson have a lot in common, including activism.

"She'd obviously read up on me and it didn't take a minute for us to establish a bond, we are still in touch with each other. She sends me some beautiful messages every now and then, particularly after she saw the film. She really liked it.

"She's very concerned about human rights, especially the trafficking of girls. That had a resonance with me. We also talked about the slums in Mumbai, women's issues and stuff like that. So there was a lot of bonding apart from just acting."

The multiple National Award winner, who recently shot for the second season of American military sci-fi series "Halo", also spoke about working across film industries around the world.

Azmi said it was not a new phenomenon for her as the first time she worked in a film in London was the 1988 British drama "Madame Sousatzka", on which she was the "only Indian on the set".

"Shirley MacLaine was playing my co-star and John Schlesinger was the director. At that time, it felt very strange because I was the only Indian on the set, and I spoke English completely differently from how the others did," she recalled.

Speaking in English in the way her character Aisha does wasn't very alien to her, she added.

"If I have to suddenly mouth Shakespeare, it would still be a bit problematic. I'm doing 'Halo' and it is also all in English. What is very interesting is that I'm playing Admiral Margaret Parangosky (in 'Halo') and I am not asked to focus on my ethnicity at all. I speak exactly the way that I do in real life," the actor said.

"What's Love Got To Do With It?" marks Kapur's return to movies after a gap of 16 years.

The filmmaker, equally known for his work in the West with movies such as "Elizabeth" in 1998, "The Four Feathers" in 2002 and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (2007), shot the romantic comedy entirely in English.