You will turn 64 today! What plans this year?
My play Happy Birthday Sunita opens in London on September 19. On my birthday I will be in technical rehearsal till 10 pm! Javed has come to be with me and I’m thrilled. No other plans needed!
Do you enjoy the cake cutting and the gifts?
The cake-cutting is a practice I do not like. When did it start in India and why I do not know. In school we were only allowed to give two sweets to the entire class. It was a great leveler because it prevented the richer girls from being lavish and show the not so rich ones in poor light! I’m not a great stickler for giving or receiving presents on birthdays, anniversaries, etc as a â€˜must doâ€™. I prefer giving a gift without occasion if I feel itâ€™s something a friend will like.
But surely you like something?
I must confess that flowers are my weakness and I love receiving them specially Indian fragrant flowers Mogra, Rajnigandha, Sontakka etc.
Ok. Which is the most memorable birthday you ever had?
My 50th birthday. All my friends came from various corners and Abba (father poet Kaifi Azmi) sat quietly through the noisy celebrations in a sherwani and topi looking like the birthday person himself!! Javed was wonderful too but itâ€™s too personal to share the details.
As you look back what do you feel about your achievements so far?
I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time! But the best is yet to come. Of all the things I do acting is what I enjoy the most. I’m blessed to be in a profession I love.
If I ask you to name 5 incidents that were turning-points in your life what would they be?
1. When I joined FTII, 2. Ankur, 3. Arth, 4. Watching Anand Patwardhans documentary Bombay Our City, 5. When I protested against the killing of theatre activist Safdar Hashmi at the International Film Festival in Delhi where my film John Schlesinger’s Madam Sousatzka was premiering.
Who are the people who have most influenced your thought processes and your over all personality?
My parents Kaifi and Shaukat, my husband Javed, Shyam Benegal, Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kapoor. Then there are all the women I work with in the slums from whom I learned resilience…. imagine living under the threat of your home being demolished any day and yet being able to function! Also, the women in Mijwan.
How do you allocate so many varied roles to yourself in life?
For an actor life must be your resource-base because you can enrich the character you play by drawing upon all the depth of your own experience. In the process of becoming a star you get isolated from life because you are so surrounded by a concentric circle of people around you that you start living almost in a bubble,
How do you stay do grounded in spite of all the adulation?
Kevin Spacey told me itâ€™s a choice he has made to travel by tube, buy his groceries etc. Can you imagine what would happen in India if Shah Rukh Khan decided to do that?!! I wanted to travel by metro to my play while Iâ€™m in London. But I was advised against it.
64 …is it just a number or does it really mean a coming of age?
I’m at peace with my age. I’ve embraced life at all stages. I remember people were horrified when I celebrated my 50th! ‘Don’t announce your age’ I was advised! How stupid is that.
As an Indian actress, do you feel restricted by your age?
This is the best time to be an actor. There are many parts available for all age groups. Itâ€™s no longer the stereotypical mother in a white sari and terrible wig, sacrificing all for her family!
Any unfulfilled dreams?
I would have loved to play the piano! Alas! Itâ€™s too late now..
If you had to change one thing in your life, what would that be?
Itâ€™s too personal to answer
Generations of actors consider you a role model. What advice do you have for them?
Never become complacent, work hard. Embrace life!