Actor Shabana Azmi has been rather busy juggling work internationally and back home in India. In 2017, she appeared in two international films – Signature Move and The Black Prince. Last year, she played a pivotal role in ace filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s Halo, an American military science fiction series. She also headlined director Shekhar Kapur’s British romantic comedy titled What’s Love Got To Do With It. After its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and winning an award at the Rome Film Fest, it released in the UK on 24 February this year. Come this Friday and the film will be hitting the big screen in India.
What’s Love Got To Do With It sees Azmi playing Aisha, a Pakistani mother, who is obsessed with getting her London-raised son married. Apart from reuniting with Kapur decades after the critically acclaimed drama Masoom (1983), what makes the film special for her is collaborating with the two-time Academy Award winning actor, Emma Thompson. In an exclusive chat with News18, Azmi reveals that she has been a ‘fan’ of Thompson ‘for so many years’.
Talking about the camaraderie they share, she tells us, “We had a lot of fun but we also spoke a lot about our shared concern about human rights. She has been interested in it for so long and that has been my concern as well. She was having a ball. I mean, look at the outlandish clothes she wear, one worse than the other (laughs)! The worse they were, the more she enjoyed wearing them.” For the unversed, Thompson plays an over-enthusiastic and quirky British woman named Cath in the film, who happens to be Aisha’s best friend and neighbour.
Azmi feels that the rapport between their onscreen characters spilled over in real life too. Shedding further light on it, she remarks, “In the film, Emma does a Bollywood number. But in actuality, she’s a very good dancer. Doing the missteps on her part was an effort. She was absolutely lovely and since we shot for it during Covid, there were strict protocols and so, we weren’t encouraged to go to our trailers. In fact, even the hair and make-up was done in a common trailer. That’s how we got the chance to chit-chat with each other.” Azmi continues, “We would hang around the house we were all in. A sort of sisterhood and kinship naturally came in which also helped the film because Aisha and Cath are also good friends.”
Themed on the evolving definition of love in these today’s times against the backdrop of an interracial set-up, What’s Love Got To Do With It provides the audience a distinction between traditionalism and modernity. Speaking about it, the Neerja (2016) and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013) actor says, “Look at the life of Emma [in the film]! Cath and Aisha both live next to each other but have such contrasting lives. My character is a lot like many women we know, who are on the brink of modernity and traditionality and are trying to negotiate that space but ultimately, it’s their family that mean everything to them. The film doesn’t judge either of the communities. It observes this aspect with warmth, compassion and humour. And that’s what I like. The film rips off all the stereotypes.”
The set of What’s Love Got To Do With It also spelled multi-ethnicity and being a part of a space like that brought Azmi immense joy. “What’s Love Got To Do With It is a very smart and clever script. It’s a script that breaks the stereotypes surrounding Pakistani communities living in London. In fact, it showcases the stereotypes and then turns them on the head. The good thing is that it had released in the UK and the Asians had absolutely loved it. They said, ‘For once, we’ve been freed from the clichéd representations of us.’ Who in their right mind would say no to such an offer? This is an international film made by Shekhar Kapur, who I absolutely adore as a director. It has Emma Thompson and Lily James in it and is written by Jemima Khan. The film has everything going for it,” she elaborates.
Amid this political climate, is art the only way to celebrate these cultural differences? “Art isn’t the only form to do so but it’s a very important one. It has the greatest reach in terms of touching people’s lives. Even a book is a form of art. Art has a special ability to create a climate of sensitivity in which it’s possible for change to occur. That’s the greatest strength of art. It breaks barriers and that’s’ why I’m so happy to be an artist,” states Azmi, who will next be seen in filmmaker Karan Johar’s Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani.
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