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Shabana Azmi: Decided to join FTII after watching Jaya Bachchan in a film

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Shabana Azmi: Decided to join FTII after watching Jaya Bachchan in a film

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There's something about the first day of shoot mdash it can make even the finest actors a ball of nerves. Shabana Azmi draws an interesting analogy, as she explains, 'Slipping into a role on the first day is like entering the living room of a person you have never met. Sometimes, you can make friends with the character instantly at other times, it takes a few meetings to warm up.'

It probably best sums up the headspace of the senior actor, who kicks off the shoot of Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani at Powai today. The film, starring Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Jaya Bachchan and Dharmendra, marks her first collaboration with director Karan Johar. 'It's a comedy that deals with some important issues in a breezy way. I find it challenging to play a character in a Karan Johar film. He is both respectful and irreverent, and is open to suggestions. The prep has been invigorating. I have known Karan as a podgy teenager who would come to meet Javed [Akhtar, husband].'

One of the reasons she was drawn to the project was that it gave her the opportunity to share screen space with Bachchan. 'I decided to join FTII [Film and Television Institute of India] after I saw a diploma film starring Jaya Bhaduri. I was taken by her life-like performance. Her work in Abhimaan [1973] and Mili [1975] continue to move me deeply.'

Before she slips into haute couture for Johar's movie, Azmi is basking in the praise coming her way for The Empire. She was magnetic as the shrewd strategist Aisan Daulat Begum in the period drama. 'The most important compliment came from Javed. We are stingy with compliments, and offer an honest appraisal of each other's work. [A performance] can seem effortless only after a lot of effort is put in during the prep. I am happy that Hindi projects have now started the practice of readings and workshops before the actors go on set.' That isn't the only change in Indian entertainment. Today, senior women actors mdash including Dimple Kapadia and Neena Gupta mdash are bagging powerful roles. Glad that the industry has left behind its ageist ways, Azmi says, 'Finally, substantial roles are being written for women. It is a healthier ecosystem to work in.'

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