She has five National Awards, more than 120 films and has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador status. As a vocal and articulate champion of communal harmony and economic equality, she has honoured her father, Kaifi Azmi’s political legacy.
He inherited his literary talent from his father, Jan Nissar Akhtar and his uncles, but it was his scripting partnership with Salim Khan that created waves at the box office and made him a star. The wit and sensitivity of his poems have carved him an important niche in the nation’s literary annals. Married to one of Bollywood’s biggest actresses, a star scriptwriter in his own right, he remains an intensely private person.
Shabana Azmi reveals the hidden side of her husband and soulmate: Javed Akhtar.
Firstpost: You are articulate, expressive about what you believe in, while he is quieter, more involved in his own world. Are you opposites in terms of temperament?
Shabana Azmi: On the contrary, I cannot think of anyone who is closer to me, and more similar than Javed. He is my soulmate.
What makes your relationship so perfect?
Look at the similarities in our backgrounds. In discovering Javed I rediscovered my father. Both are from UP, both poets, film lyricists, writers. Both love politics… In fact if you consider the fact that one seeks the perfect match of backgrounds for an arranged marriage, then this could well have been the perfect arranged marriage.
But it wasn’t arranged…
He was already married by the time I realised how well suited we were.
When did that happen?
He had been coming home for a very long time, like other poets he would come to read his poems to my father, seek his opinion. But I was very busy with my work, and never really engaged with him.
Then in the ‘80s, I sat in on conversations my father had with him on poetry, on politics, and I realised he was very different from his image.
How did you become close?
He saw Sparsh, he really liked the movie. He told Sai (Paranjpe, director) that he really liked the film. There was a little party at Sai’s and he was invited too. We met there. He spoke of the film in such detail that I was amazed. That was the start of serious complex conversations.
But the fact remained that he was a married man…
Yes, we realised that. We stayed away from each other for as long as was possible. My mother was against it completely. When I told my father, I asked him, “Is he wrong for me?” And he said, “He is not wrong, but the circumstances are wrong.”
When I asked him, “What if I change the circumstances,?” he said, “Then it should be okay.”
It could not have been easy.
Nobody can understand the anguish, the heartbreak… There were children involved.
For 2 to 3 years, we suffered the trauma. And then one day, we decided to break up. It was too traumatic for the children if we went on. We told each other, “We will break up after one last meeting.”
We met for that last meeting and we talked and talked… not love talk alone, but about everything, politics, poetry. We got so busy talking , we forgot to break up.
Did marriage disappoint you? Men change after marriage sometimes. Did he?
After marriage it was like we were two peas in a pod. So much was similar about us. There was not much adjustment needed on my part. There was so much he had gone through in a broken marriage that he had come out of it wiser, more mature. I married a sensible man, growing wiser with years.
We have each shaped and moulded the other since we married, but the most important fact is that we are also very good friends. And he jokes in his typical manner. He loves to say ‘Shabana is such a good friend,even marriage could not spoil our friendship.’
What was especially endearing?
The fact that he is so much like my father. For any ordinary man, my father is a tough act to follow, especially knowing how much I hero-worshipped my father.