BizAsia meets Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi & Jaswinder Singh

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Much has been spoken about Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi�۪s play, ��Kaifi Aur Main�۪, following its success around the globe.�� Based on the life of Kaifi Azmi, who is Shabana�۪s father, the play features Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi alongside Ghazal singer Jaswinder Singh.

As Akhtar, Azmi and Singh gear up to perform their popular play in the UK this weekend, BizAsia‘s Manpreet Bhandal caught up with them to discuss their idea of true love, and more.

(Photographs by Shyama Sudra)

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The synopsis of the play states ���Kaifi Aur Main is the mirror of what true love is all about�۝.�� May I please know from each of you, what you believe true love is?

Shabana: I think true love, for me, is what happened between my parents.�� That to me is what love is because the kind of love my parents shared was very romantic.�� I think romance is just flying out of the window today and I lament that.�� You know, with my parents it was not one-sided. She was willing to give her all for him and he was willing to do the same for her.�� My mother was an exemplary mother, exemplary housekeeper and also a very talented actress.�� My father constantly supported her.�� There were so many mornings they would sit together and he would be giving her cues for her work.�� That kind of companionship is, I think, true love.

Jaswinder: I agree

Javed: I also agree.

Shabana: (To Javed) But what do you think true love is?

Javed: I think it�۪s very difficult to define what love is and what true love is.�� It is beyond definition.�� If they feel complete with each other, while they are sitting silently and not saying anything yet they are comfortable.�� They are not speaking at all but even that silence is giving them that security. True love is understanding what the other person emotionally feels at any point, that�۪s it.

Shabana: True love is certainly not about giving a solitaire on Valentine�۪s Day.�� When true love today is considered to be about the gifts that you give, that�۪s something I abhor because, thank you very much, I can buy my solitaires on my own. ��However, a touch, a shared moment, a quiet silence, warmth is much more important than anything material.�� Much more important than these marketing devices that have been built, is expressing your love.�� Jaswinder said please don�۪t ask me, I said because your wife will hear at home and say, ��you said all that about true love but you�۪ve never shown it to me!�۪

Jaswinder: *Laughs* You will experience (true love) in this play.

Javed:�� If anything happens, whether it is good or bad, whatever happens, the first thing you think of every time is how that person (whom you love) will react.�� Shall I tell that person or shall I not tell that person? Whatever happens, that person will be there. You want to share everything with that person but you consider how they will feel. Even in their absence, that person remains the most important person.

The play is based on your parents, Kaifi Azmi and Shaukat Kaifi, Shabana. Has there been additional pressure essaying the role of your own mother, considering the contents of the play is personal to you?

Shabana: Yes, of course.�� I mean, apart from the fact that it is difficult enough for you to recreate your parent�۪s life but she�۪s also such a fine actor. It was very challenging and a wonderful opportunity.

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Were you already aware of all these details of your parents�۪ lives prior to this experience or did you learn anything new while researching for the play?

Shabana: I learnt so many things! You know, children don�۪t really know much about their parent�۪s life.�� They only know some of the incidents.�� It always amazes me how little I knew about my father.�� There was a period in his life when he went away for some time which I knew nothing about because he never spoke about what he was doing. I later learnt through conversations with my mother and through the book she had written I discovered so many things.

Javed, there is no denying just how beautifully you romance with words. Yourself a writer, you portray your father-in-law through his journey from a poet to a lyricist in this play. How much of yourself did you discover in Kaifi Azmi while essaying him? Did you discover any similarities beyond the profession?

Javed: I can praise him, I cannot praise myself. It�۪d be very pompous of myself to say I am exactly like him.�� He lived in a very different time and had a wholesome life.�� His life had so many aspects. He talks about his village, where he came from, when he fell in love, his revolutionary ideas.�� He talks about the film industry. Then after the film industry, he moved to a small village and started living there.�� His life was full of so many different experiences.�� Generally what happens is you discover a path and then you keep walking on a path until you die, but here is a person who is always looking at going up, not just on the one path.

Jaswinder, you are notorious for rendering ghazals of many famous poets. What influence, if any, would you say Kaifi Azmi had on your work over the years?

Jaswinder: He definitely had an influence on my work.�� I grew up in a musical family. I have always been a great fan of him and I have always sung his ghazals.

Naturally, Kaifi Azmi�۪s songs have been intermingled into the play.�� Do any of you have a favourite song of his, one which is perhaps closest to your heart?

Javed: I think it would be very unfair to choose just one song.

Shabana: I think it�۪s from my film, ��Arth�۪ (1982).�� However, it�۪s not Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho which is the one everyone likes.�� My favourite would be Koi Yeh Kaise Bataye Ke Woh Tanha Kyun Hai.

Jaswinder: Wah. That is a beautiful song.

Shabana: Just the simplicity, the simplicity of the words, it is just so beautiful and it is impossible to not feel it.�� I felt that as an actor, it was so easy for me to feel the song; the music was so soulful and it was sung so beautifully, that I had to do literally nothing except react.

Of the many great things Kaifi Azmi stood for was the equality between men and women. I came across these beautiful words he dedicated to his wife: “Jannat ek aur hai jo mard ke pehlu mein nahin��_ uth jaa meri jaan, saath hi chalna hai tujhe�۝.

Shabana: It�۪s just wonderful.�� We�۪re talking about 70 years ago��_ ���Jannat ek aur hai jo mard ke pehlu mein nahin, uski aazad ravish par bhi machalna hai tujhe, uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe�۝.�� Imagine he said this so long ago.�� There was a verse, ���Qadr ab tak teri tareekh ne jaani hi nahin, tujh mein sholay bhi hai, bas ashq fishani hi nahin��_�۝

Javed: ���-Tu haqeeqat bhi hai dilchasp kahani hi nahin, teri hasti bhi hai ek cheez javani hi nahin��_���

Shabana: ���-Apni tareekh ka unvan badalna hai tujhe. Uth meri jaan, mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe.�۝�� This is 70 years ago!

In the way that he reflected his opinions through his poetry, how important do you consider it to make social statements through your work in the entertainment industry?��

Shabana: It is important; it can reflect in the work I do, the movies I do.�� I grew up in a family where there was a focus on art. When you are in the movies it is not possible to say you will be your character from 9 to 6 and then that it is.�� You have to believe in what you are doing and what your work is saying.

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Any message for your fans in the UK?

Jaswinder: Come and watch our play.

Shabana: Come in large numbers!

Javed: We promise you will enjoy yourselves.

BizAsia thanks Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi and Jaswinder Singh for their time, and wishes them all the best for the play which is being performed at The Symphony Hall (Birmingham) this Saturday and at Indigo, The O2 (London) on Sunday.

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