Express News Service

Shabana Azmi, who turns 70 this month, has barely taken a breather since she first burst on the scene in Shyam Benegal’s Ankur in 1974. The career-graph of the five-time National Award-winner includes acclaimed roles in art-house and mainstream cinema.

She recently turned presenter for her brother Baba Azmi’s directorial debut, Mee Raqsam (streaming on Zee5). In the latest edition of Time Pass, a series of webinars organised by The New Indian Express group, she discussed the film and its politics with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai.

Shabana shared that her brother had auditioned hundreds of girls from across the country before finding Aditi Subedi (who plays Mariam, a young Muslim girl who wants to become a dancer). “Aditi, who is originally from Mijwan (the village in Uttar Pradesh where the film is set in), had never faced the camera before, and didn’t know the basics of Bharatanatyam. But she worked hard for three months to perfect the role,” she said.

“For a 15-year-old girl to leave the safety of her tiny village, and come to a metro like Mumbai, and keep herself open to the intense training… I think it epitomises the youth of our country. They are full of intent and talent and are prowling for opportunities. We ignore them at our own peril. The film is about empowering them,” she added. 

Shabana also touched upon the concept of masculinity and the toxicity attached to that word in our society, while talking about the film’s progressive father character, played by Danish Husain. “The character of Salim, played by Danish, has been written and directed as a nurturer – a father who can be both a dad and a mom to his daughter, someone who lends unwavering support to his girl’s desire. This is a role many men in our country don’t see for themselves. Why can’t masculinity be also about empathy and understanding?” she said. 

Shabana also revealed that the film is a tribute to their father, acclaimed Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi, who, she said, was very much a nurturer. “He gave us endless hope and confidence. He once told us to shoot a film in Mijwan, his birth village. It was impossible to fulfill his wish back then. So, we decided to shoot Mee Raqsam there and launched the film last year, to mark our father’s birth centenary. Also, that I have been working in Mijwan for the empowerment of the girl child for nearly two decades helped,” she said.

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