‘You carry on, I’m off to eat tandoori chicken’: How Javed Akhtar would excuse himself when Shabana Azmi was on hunger strike in the ’80s

android, ‘you carry on, i’m off to eat tandoori chicken’: how javed akhtar would excuse himself when shabana azmi was on hunger strike in the ’80s

‘You carry on, I’m off to eat tandoori chicken’: How Javed Akhtar would excuse himself when Shabana Azmi was on hunger strike in the ’80s

Actor Shabana Azmi spoke about her activism, and what drew her to joining a hunger strike in support of slum dwellers in the 1980s. She said that as the daughter of a card-carrying communist, poet Kaifi Azmi, she was always exposed to certain social realities as a child, but her mother was very concerned about her when she decided to step up and join the protests. In a chat with filmmaker Mira Nair, the veteran actor recalled how her husband, writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar reacted to her demonstration, and the sole Bollywood personality who silently supported her from the sidelines.

Shabana and Mira chatted with each other at the New York Indian Film Festival, where the actor spoke about her youth, and what drew her to raising her voice against injustice. She said that she was moved when she heard a group of slum dwellers speak about their homes being demolished by the government, and no compensation being offered in return. "Instinctively, I decided that I would like to go as well," she said.

She continued, "I was supported by Javed. And without thinking, I joined the strike, and then, of course, we were in the limelight. My mother was really, really scared. My father was in Patna at that time. My mother sent a message to him, saying, 'Your daughter is doing this, please put some sense into her head'. And I got a telegram from my father, saying, 'Best of luck, comrade'. My mother would come, all white in the face, but then she would say, 'Inqilab zindabad'."

Shabana said that the experience transformed her, because she realised the level of misinformation that was being fed to the people. "I had support from Javed. Javed and Tanvi, my sister-in-law, would come to the hunger strike and sit with us, and then say, 'Achcha Gandhi ji, aap strike kariye, hum tandoori chicken kha ke aate hain (you stay here, we'll go have tandoori chicken)'. But they were very supportive."

But while the entire industry shunned her, it was Shashi Kapoor who used his connections to get the slum dwellers what they wanted. "He went to the CM at the time, and said, 'We're always there for you, to support every cause that you ask us to, and now an important member of our fraternity is on this hunger strike, so you have to listen to her'. Then the housing minister came and said that they accept all our demands, but when we went up to the podium, I wanted to thank Shashi Kapoor, but he just slunk away, taking no credit for it."

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