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Thursday, June 17, 2021

‘Artists have a way of breaking national barriers’

Actor Shabana Azmi on playing head of naval intelligence in Steven Spielberg’s series, Halo, and exploring varied mediums.

Written by Alaka Sahani |
Updated: August 8, 2019 6:05:57 am
The role came to Azmi through her UK agent.

Later this year, actor Shabana Azmi (pictured) will travel to Budapest to shoot for the series, Halo, an adaptation of a hugely popular eponymous video game. In the series, she will play Admiral Margaret Parangosky, the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence. “The series is very futuristic. This is uncharted territory for me. The reward itself is in doing a part that I have not done before. Everything else is a bonus,” says Azmi. The show, expected to be launched in 2021, is co-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Otto Bathurst.

The role came to Azmi through her UK agent. “Asian actors have been asking for colour-blind casting for the last 20 years. The entertainment industry compared to any other industry understands the virtue of involving people from different nationalities. That (diversity) means increasing your audience. It becomes a win-win situation for both,” she says.

Azmi believes that the reach of the show or the reaction of the audience is the last thing any artist should be concerned with. At the moment, she is happy to be part of this series. Halo is a first-person shooter video game franchise that centers around an interstellar war between humanity and an alien contingent.

Azmi has worked in several international projects in the past, such as Madame Sousatzka (1988), La Nuit Bengali (1988), City of Joy (1992) and Son of Pink Panther (1993). With technology, the world is shrinking. “Even when I worked in western productions earlier, I realised this is one industry where people from various nationalities work together. Once I was shooting for a movie in New York that had Chinese, Polish, Indian, American and French people on board. Artists have a way of breaking national barriers,” says the actor. The cast of Halo includes actors Natascha McElhone, Bokeem Woodbine, Bentley Kalu, Natasha Culzac, and Kate Kennedy.

The 68-year-old actor considers herself to be very fortunate as she was “at the right place at the right time”. She says, “When I started my career, the parallel cinema movement had just started. In the late ’80s, when I acted in Madame Sousatzka, the interest in Asian actors was on the rise.”

For her busy schedule, Azmi cites the emphasis on content-driven projects as one of the reasons. “People are recognising the fact that content matters. Today, a lot of roles are opening up for senior actors. I’m lucky that I’m here and offered several projects. Out of that, I choose whatever catches my fancy — sometimes it’s the subject, sometimes it’s the character or the money. I pick a project for different reasons. I’m almost instinctive about what

I say yes to. Very rarely, it has happened that I have said no to something and have been persuaded to do it,” she says.

Working with young people and exploring different mediums has always interested Azmi. “I remember, 15 years ago, I did a film that was going to be released on Google. Waterborne (2005, directed by Ben Rekhi) was shot in Los Angeles. Everyone questioned me why was I bothering to do a film that was not going to release in a theatre. Now, everyone is talking about digital medium opening up,” says the actor, who recently wrapped up the shoot of Sheer Qorma, which also features Divya Dutta and Swara Bhasker. “Divya sent me the script and I was moved by it. I found the director, Faraz Arif Ansari, passionate and deeply interested in the subject,” says the five-time National Award-winner.

One of her landmark movies, Arth, is likely to be remade and directed by Revathy. “I look at the remake as a tribute to the original. If we become so picky about remakes, we would have never had different versions of Othello or Hamlet. I wish them all the best for the remake,” she says.

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