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Diff 2017: Five minutes with Shabana Azmi

The acclaimed Indian actress brings her latest drama ‘5 Rupya’ to the festival

10:03 December 13, 2017

Multiple National Award-winning actress Shabana Azmi, who premiered her film 5 Rupya (5 Rupees) at the 14th Dubai International Film Festival (Diff), claims that film festivals are the sole platforms that nudge movies with no commercial trappings to be seen and heard.

“Film festivals are our only hope,” said Azmi in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!. The veteran actress plays the grandmother Ameena in this film based on Premchand’s short story, Eid Gaah. It’s a relationship drama between a grandmother and her young grandson (Yohaan Bimal Panjuani) and revolves around his Eidi being lost.

Azmi isn’t just a talented actress. She’s an activist who recently took up the cause of the film Padmavati, the call for stay on its release, and urged her industry to boycott the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, as a mark of protest. “I am not talking about it, but I am doing something about it,” said Azmi, who refused to divulge details. Here are the excerpts from our interview...

What prompted you to accept the role in 5 Rupees?

It’s a well-known short story by Munshi Premchand and I remember reading it as a child. But when the script came to me, I remember being sceptical and I wasn’t sure about how it is going to lend itself into a full-length feature. But Piyush [director] was so passionate about it and that always draws me as an actor — when directors feel so strongly about their work. He waited for me for a long time. Ultimately, what clinched it for me was Yohaan, the boy who plays my grandson, because he’s gorgeous. He and I worked towards establishing a rapport.

In film schools, they tell you that working with pets and children are tricky. They can take the spotlight from consummate actors just with their presence...

Absolutely. It is important to understand that children are not there just to be given instructions. They react to truth and react to not being manipulated. It is important to realise that you don’t manipulate children on-screen. But there was a sparkle in Yohaan. I enjoyed being with him greatly. It was important for the film, 5 Rupees, that the love between the grandmother and the grandchild seems natural because it’s a pure story and it’s simply told. It’s filmed in a timeless quality manner and you never know which era the story belongs to. For that there has to be a purity of emotions because we built a bond with each other.

Bitcoins are the new currency, do you think the denomination of the meagre amount Rs5 will seem relevant today?

The denomination isn’t important, that money is symbolic of love for the young child. For the child, it’s the Eidi that his grandmother gives and therefore is a big deal for him.