Meet the ultimate woman of substance

There are very few people in Bollywood who’ve never disputed what I’ve written. Shabana Azmi, Preity Zinta, Bipasha Basu and Sushmita Sen are among that rare breed. These women never question me, never jump at a word or a line. None of these resplendent women are known to brook any nonsense. When wronged they’ve fought back. In an industry motivated entirely by myopic selfinterest I pride myself for knowing these ladies so well.

Shabana, I’ve known the longest. I heroworship her. I think her to be the ultimate woman of substance. Last week when she called to say she would be in my town I was at a loss for words. Shabana coming to my home was a miracle. There was a problem, though. Shabana was in my town for a few hours. And that too as Shatrughan Sinha’s guest.

“Why should I let you meet him during my schedule?” he joked with Shabana and then promptly deputed a guy to escort my VVIP guest to my place. Shabana has always played the perfect hostess to me in Mumbai. It was my turn now. And I was nervous as hell. Entertaining celebrities is an art. You can’t be gushing fawning and photographing your guest.

It was my friend Urmila Matondkar who told me how terribly hounded stars feel when they are clicked while eating when invited.

We never click pictures when we’ve celebrities over. With Shabana I had to make an exception. I don’t mean to play down all the visitors I’ve had home, from the lovely ladies Rakhi Gulzar, Sonali Bendre, Shilpa Shetty and Manisha Koirala to the really cool guys Gulzar saab, Suniel Shetty and R Madhavan. They were all fab. And each visit has its own story to tell.

But Shabana was… extra-special. Always has been. I’ve often asked Javed saab if I could marry his wife. When I told Shabana this she burst out laughing. “Javed says, ‘Do so at your own risk’.”

By the time she left, it was way past the precious time she had allotted to us, and Shatrubhai kept calling every two minutes.

And yes, about those photographs… I made an exception. Shabana insisted on being photographed with every member of my family individually including my driver.

I’ve learnt many things from Shabana in the past. I’ve learnt to overcome my shyness and be a go-getter. “If you want something in life don’t stand in the back waiting your turn. Push your way up. I always did. When I wanted to be cast by Mrinal Sen and Gulzarbhai I hounded them,” she said.

Shabana taught me the only way to survive is to be pushy. She also taught me that good acting is all about losing your vanity completely before the camera. Her emotional nakedness in
Arth, Bhavna, Log Kya Kahenge, Fire and Morning Raga are unscaled by any other actor.

During her visit, we were discussing how much like her mother she had become lately. Shabana shared with me an anecdote about her mom. This was just after the release of Shabana’s second film Faasla. “Mom was horrified. Good that Ankur came first. If Faasla had been my first film my mother would’ve married me off to the first man who agreed.”

Whether addressing parliament or chatting with a family in Patna, Shabana is equally at home. Oh yes, that’s the other thing I learnt from her. Savour the moment and seize the day.

But that day when Shabana came visiting I learnt something more from her. It’s far more difficult and important to be a good guest than a good host

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