She has been married for over three decades to veteran lyricist Javed Akhtar and has essayed powerful roles in Bollywood in her 44-year journey. Acclaimed performer and social activist Shabana Azmi doesn't see marriage as a "disqualification" for female actors in the Hindi film industry.
"I think it is a very old way of thinking that marriage is detrimental to the careers of female actors. This is no longer the case… To say that marriage is a disqualification for parts, I do not agree with it," Shabana said.
The 66-year-old star says actresses get married at an appropriate age now.
"What happens is girls get married at an age when they are ready for it, by which time they have played their parts as leading ladies that are sort of in the heroine mode. By the time they get married, they look for more substantial parts and so the parts that come their way are appropriate to their age," added the actress, who was feted with Padma Shri in 1988.
Shabana, who through her work strongly supports the empowerment of women, says the role of women in Indian cinema has changed greatly.
"If you look at the 1960s, you see Meena Kumari was the heroine for the film that was titled 'Main Chup Rahungi' — remaining silent was considered a virtue for women," she said, adding how it was left to the parallel cinema to portray women differently.
"This fortunately is changing… Because of the weight that many of our female actors have brought to the films and their parts, more and more such films are being written, and importantly they are being commercially successful."
"We can't say that we want films about empowered women, change and justice unless these are films that are going to be embraced by the audience," added the actress, who has worked in films like "Ankur", "Arth", "Fire", "Makdee" and "Neerja".
All said and done, Shabana says producers who pump in a lot money into films are here for business.
"Some feel strongly about being committed to a social cause, others feel strongly committed to entertainment — both are equally valid because finally it's a choice each artiste has to make," she added.
Shabana feels the film industry is age-centric, but this is also changing.
"If you look in my own career graph in the last 10 years, probably I have had the most challenging roles of my life… I was just recounting to somebody that I have five films lined up for release. Two of them are American productions — one is called 'Signature Move' and the other is 'The Black Prince'."
"Then I have Premchand's 'Idgah', 'Sonata' and 'The Wishing Tree'. All these roles are as different as you can possibly imagine."
The actress says it's a rich variety of roles that is coming her way at 66, and it makes her happy.