Shabana Azmi is undoubtedly the best dramatic actress of India, ahead of the greats in the category like Meena Kumari, Nutan and Smita Patil. As my friend Sanjay Leela Bhansali
- La Nuit Bengali (1988)
Based on the Bengali litterateur Metreyi
Devi’s amorous experiences, this Kolkata-based steamy film on the fruits and fangs of forbidden love is one of the unsung gems of Shabana’s career. Just the joy of watching her team up with the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee is worth the ticket. Shabana and Soumitra play a couple whose daughter (Supriya Pathak) has a torrid affair with her Romanian house guest, played by the affable Hugh Grant. Devi objected to the film and was never released in India. Now is your time to catch this classic. “Hugh Grant was a huge British star. There was also the legendary John Hurt in the film. And of course, Soumitra Chatterjee. I was overshadowed,” Shabana laughs. Not quite.
- Ek Pal (1986)
The first time I met Shabana was when Ek Pal had just been released. I was completely taken up with her performance as a lonely wife in Gauwhati who gets impregnated by her ex-flame (Farouq Sheikh) while her husband (Naseeruddin Shah) is away. Director Kalpana Lajmi
who died young and was largely understated, allowed Shabana’s character to keep her extra-marital baby. “Back then it was a huge scandal. Naseer and I have done many films together. He was the one co-star I could rely on to catch me when I would fall,” says Shabana.
- Log Kya Kahenge (1983)
This is the vilest character Shabana has played. Her character Roma is forced into a loveless marriage with a widower (Sanjeev Kumar). When her stepson sees her with her lover (Navin Nischol), Roma throttles the little boy. Shabana told me she was frightened when she saw that murderous look on her own face while killing the child. “I remember seeing that completely evil look on my face and I was shocked by it. Was I capable of such evil?” Shabana asked. This B R Ishaara-directed shocker was completely rejected by the audience. But it is one of Shabana’s monstrous master classes in method acting.
- Sati (1989)
Being married to a tree is not easy. Ask Shabana about it! She played a mute woman in the 19th century who was married to a tree, as the horoscope predicted death
for her husband. Shabana and director Aparna Sen did ample films together but none of them were as evocative and seductive as Sati. Most of the film was shot in torrential rains where the loveless, luckless woman rages against her bad fortune. Shabana was seriously ill with pneumonia after the shooting of Sati. We have no information on the fate of Shabana’s leading man. You could say it’s a Miss Tree.
- Bhavna (1983)
I’ve watched this story of a deserted wife who turns to prostitution to fund her son’s education, umpteenth times. Every time I watch it, I sob like a child. Shabana, as the sacrificial mother out-did Nargis in Mother India. She and I have had endless discussions on why I consider Bhavna to be her greatest performance, ahead of other milestones like Arth and
Genesis. She isn’t convinced as yet. But someday soon I hope to convert her.