TRUTH BE TOLD
Harper's Bazaar India|December 2020
Shabana Azmi on her latest film, the idea of beauty, masculinity, and more
Radhika Bhalla

Patriarchy, in itself, is a complicated concept. It’s the behemoth that transforms with class, race, and region; hard to grasp and tougher to slay. How, then, do you speak about it in cinema? Much before women’s rights became a part of daily conversation and Instagram activism, actor Shabana Azmi was addressing feminism in all its complexity through her films. She was the Dalit woman who found the power to speak up, the mafia queen driven by retribution, and the lonely wife who sought comfort in a same-sex relationship. And even though 46 years have passed since her debut in Shyam Benegal’s hard-hitting film, Ankur (for which she won her first National Film Award), her determination to underscore women’s realities hasn’t dampened in the least.

Recently, the veteran starred in a movie that exposes the issue of female foeticide in India. Her latest release, Kaali Khuhi, is a horror film that calls attention to the right to life, through the story of a 10-year-old girl who must save her family from a troubled spirit.

“Actually, I wouldn’t call it horror, because horror has certain expectations with it—jump-shots and prosthetics.

I would say that it is a thriller with very strong social commentary, something I was interested in,” she shares with Bazaar over a video call from her home in Mumbai. “Like Terrie Samundra (the director) says, it could very easily have been made into a documentary. But since she wanted it to reach out to more people, she presented a story that humanises the issue, where those suffering are not just figures but actual people.”

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