Justalkin Episode 79: Tabu, Shabana Azmi, Zoya Akhtar and others; Muslim women who are major part of our industry
What do Tabu, Shabana Azmi and Huma Qureshi have in common? Some might say their religion. But I’d say, acting chops. This is JusTalkin brought to you by in.com. Now there’s a huge debate on whether or not religion should come into foray when there’s a discussion about entertainment. But we live in a democracy. We have certain rules and responsibilities. Apart from that, we’re pretty much free to do what we want to, right? And Muslim women have always been a major part of the industry since it’s inception!
The problem is, since the 1970s till date, Muslim women haven’t had the best representation on screen in Indian films. There have always been some major problems they’re going through like unrequited love or financial problems or something. It’s okay in a few movies like ‘Daawat-e-Ishq’ because she faces dowry issues but that’s something any girl might face in India. The religion angle was to set off a whole new tangent so it’s excusable. In Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, Anushka Sharma plays a character named Farah who goes after her heart. She is referred to as ‘Fearless Farah!’. And Alia Bhatt plays this feisty girl who is also really smart in Gully Boy. It isn’t all bad, but I think we’ll all agree that it could be a wee bit better. And it’s not easy for Muslim women to make their mark as well. In a lot of countries, they actually have to fight against society and gender stereotypes to even enter this industry! There’s so much censorship in Iran that even now it’s a little difficult for female film-makers there to release just about anything they want to make. In Turkey, since the beginning, way back from the 1920s, they encouraged women to be in films but it wasn’t a very big percentage. Even now it’s just about 8 percent but they’ve been a constant presence in the industry there. And that’s why when you see a Muslim actor or a director who is female, you have to take into account that they probably had to fight a little extra hard to tell their story.
Zoya Akhtar did have a stepping stone into Bollywood. But I don’t think anybody who has seen even a single movie of hers will continue to say that. You won’t see her churn out movie after movie once every few months. When she comes with a movie you know she has an agenda, you know there’s gonna be a purpose and she’ll stick to it. Everybody loves rags to riches stories. But nobody else even thought of making a movie like Dil Dhadakne Do where she showed us the problems of the rich. I think this one woman is single-handedly responsible for increasing the number of tourists to Spain from India, thanks to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara! Gully Boy. We don’t even have to talk about how awesome a movie it was. That was pure Zoya Akhtar magic.
She’s hands down one of the most amazing actors in the world! When she comes on the screen you can see nothing else. In Mandi, she plays a madam in a brothel. You think Muslim women are conservative? Look at the kind of roles she did! She played a woman who had to manage other women in a brothel, and she decided what happened in the town! She played a Brahmin Carnatic singer in Morning Raga man. What crossovers can Marvel and DC do in comparison to this? If that doesn’t represent what India should really be like I don’t know what can. It’s beautiful! And when she had to mellow down and be this woman who had problems with her husband’s fidelity, no problem. She did tone down and give a performance of a lifetime in Masoom. But that’s the thing with Shabana Azmi. Every single one of her roles is the performance of a lifetime!
She’s a great choreographer. Although, I’m not the biggest fan of Farah Khan movies. But you can’t deny, this woman knows what works. Farah Khan is the brain behind some really lame movies like Happy New Year and Tees Maar Khan. But she has this ability to rake in the moolah like nobody else’s business. Apart from like a couple of movies here and there, all her movies have been huge hits at the Box Office! Main Hoon Na was a surprise superhit! She added so many elements of surprise in terms of the cast in this movie. Happy New Year also had her trademark ensemble cast and that again had a crazy run at the Box Office. Om Shanti Om was oh my god so over the top! The dialogues, the costumes, the drama, everything was way too much but if it’s a movie about the movies, it can’t just be ordinary. That also made a ton of money! I remember this interview of her mom where she was saying regular mom things like how she was worried her daughter Farah would never find a guy to marry. But she did. And she had triplets. So we know she can handle anything life throws at her! She’s a badass that way.
Tabu is another brilliant actress. It’s not like Bollywood had too many lead roles for an actress like her. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she knows how to carry herself, she’s incredible! Look at what she did in Chandni Bar. A role with so many layers. And she did it effortlessly. She fits in beautifully. And also her role in Cheeni Kum. It’s so cute, it set a whole new tone for love stories in Bollywood because we had never seen a young beautiful woman fall in love with a grey-haired man before! Tabu really gave Bollywood a refresher course except they decided to revert to whatever they were doing anyway. And the thing with Tabu is, she’s not afraid to play the bad guy sometimes! She did that in Haider, and she did that again in Fitoor. But she has guts, and she knows she can act her way through any character.
Fatima Sana Sheikh
Fatima Sana Sheikh and Zaira Wasim have the biggest common factor. Dangal. They were both launched into Bollywood with that movie. And while Zaira Wasim wants to quit the industry, Fatima already had to put up a fight the minute she decided to enter Bollywood. She was constantly trolled on social media, and this one time she put up a picture of herself in swimwear, she only got her trolled a bit more, but she’s one sassy girl. She took all the trolls for a ride, she went ahead and did what she wanted to anyway. She’d played the young kid in Chachi 420, and she’d done a few other series and films. But it was Dangal that actually shot her to fame. And instead of being allowed to enjoy her new stardom, it’s really unfair that she was subjected to trolling instead. But she dealt with it like a boss!
Mahira Khan is one of the most popular actresses in Pakistan. She started off as a VJ, was a part of a few series on the small screen, and she also began acting in films. Shah Rukh Khan’s movies are really popular in way too many countries including in Pakistan. And Mahira Khan also spoke about how when she told her mum that she was gonna act with Shah Rukh Khan, it was such a huge deal her mum almost started sobbing! So it was really interesting when they came on screen together! Unfortunately, it just turned political and every time politics is involved you know there’s gonna be trouble. Her stint in Bollywood didn’t last too long. But she’s a really smart woman, she’s a single mom and still kicks ass on screen! Funny how her awesomeness just got buried deep within all the political angles man.
Golshifteh Farahani had to make choices. And the sad part is, she has to make choices every single day. She was in some heavy roles even as a teenager, where she was a part of projects that had social messages. But she moved to France, did a few roles and they were immediately found offensive in her home country Iran and she faced a lot of backlash. She somehow worked her way through it, continued to go after her heart, but it’s a constant fight.
Although she’s from Iran and holds an Iranian passport, she had a problem even a few months back when she couldn't’ travel to the USA to shoot for a film because of Visa problems. Those aren’t the kind of problems you should be having as an actor. It should be having too many lines to memorize or something! But she’s still going strong!
Mumtaz had a really humble beginning, and her parents got divorced when she was really young, but that probably set her up for life when it came to fights. She did so well in stunts, she started to be called ‘Stunt Princess’. We thought it was a time when Bollywood didn’t even encourage women but Mumtaz managed to do roles where she could also do stunts! But the men weren’t really used to it, so when big heroes were asked to make her the heroine they just said, bring me someone more feminine! But thank god they eventually came around, and she got to do a whole bunch of blockbuster films. Films that did really well at the Box Office! She really was a trailblazer of her times.
There are a whole bunch of other women who are testaments of the fact that religion doesn’t really matter. Your skills and your intentions do! There’s Huma Qureshi who has always remained in the periphery of Bollywood; nothing too mainstream but always characters of significance for her. There’s also Gigi and Bella Hadid. Although they don’t always publicly identify as Muslims, they’ve mentioned quite a few times in their interviews that sometimes it helps to have a guide through religion. Because at the end of the day, all that should matter to us are their skills! And these women are amazing. This is JusTalkin brought to you by in.com.Read More