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Monday, December 06, 2021

It was very difficult to play Neerja’s mother: Shabana Azmi

Shabana Azmi opens up on her equation with co-star Sonam Kapoor and why shooting for Neerja was emotionally wrenching.

Written by Pooja Pillai |
Updated: February 5, 2016 7:55:44 am
neerja bhanot, shabana azmi, sonam kapoor, chandigarh, indian express talk Shabana Azmi (left); with Sonam Kapoor in Ram Madhvani’s upcoming film, Neerja

You’ve spoken before about the connection you felt with Neerja Bhanot’s mother. Could you expand on that?

A year before the film was offered to me, I met Rama, Neerja’s mother, in Chandigarh where I had been invited to present the Neerja Bhanot Award. She struck me as being a very warm and honest person, and I took a real shine to her. That’s why when this role came my way, I felt a connection between us.

The sense we get from the trailer is that the movie is as much about the mother-daughter relationship as it is about the hijacking.

That’s what Ram (Madhvani, director) has attempted to do. While you feel the thrill and the tension of the hijacking, you also feel the warmth of the relationships. There are basically two arcs here. One is about this ordinary girl who has to overcome her fears in order to do her duty. The other is about her equally ordinary mother whose concerns are like those of mothers everywhere. She worries that her daughter is working too hard and that she’s not eating enough. I haven’t seen the whole film yet, but I understand that besides dealing with the hijacking, Ram has also tried to focus on the human elements in the story.

Given that you met Rama Bhanot, how easy or difficult was it to play her on screen?

It was very difficult to play her, particularly the last scene where Rama addresses an audience. It is an extremely well-written emotional scene, which does complete justice to the moment. What I found demanding was that I had to do two more takes after the first one. It is not easy to sustain that high intensity and when you are asked to recreate exactly what you did, it can be emotionally wrenching.

You’ve known Sonam Kapoor since she was a child. What was it like to play her mother?

That came easily. I feel a lot of warmth in real life for Sonam (Kapoor) since I have watched her grow up. My family has worked with her family and there’s a very gooey, Hindi film-style sentimentality there. So it was very easy to get to that comfort level with her. I remember this one scene where Rama had to wake Neerja up in the morning. Ram asked me how I would have done it in real life, and I remembered how I would snuggle up in between my parents, even after I had grown up. So that’s what I did here too. I got into bed next to Sonam and the whole scene came off beautifully because we share a very comfortable, warm relationship.

Your first release this year, Chalk N Duster, seems to have touched a chord with viewers.

I’m so overwhelmed! If I were to forward all the responses I have received, then you will see why. People have been so receptive and many have been writing how the movie reminded them of their school teachers. Also the fact that the movie got tax exemption in Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, Gujarat and Delhi has enabled many more people to watch it. We’re also encouraging the screening of the movie in schools and in teachers’ associations, so that it has the widest reach possible.

What else will we be seeing you in this year?

I’ve been shooting for the Black Prince. It is about Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last maharaja of the Sikh Empire. I play his mother Rani Jindan. Duleep Singh was taken away by the British and was thoroughly anglicised. Rani Jindan then reminded him about his roots and his duty towards his country. The movie is expected to release here sometime this year.

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