It is not easy to win praise from Shabana Azmi. But cinematographer brother Baba Azmi received the biggest compliment from her after she watched his directorial debut, Mee Raqsam, featuring Aditi Subedi who hails from Mijwan. The film — revolving around a Muslim teenager who dreams of becoming a Bharat natyam dancer, and earns the wrath of Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists — left her so moved that Shabana offered to come on board as a presenter, a first in her 46-year career.
“The subject has to be close to her heart. Shabana will not present a movie only because it is directed by her brother. The thought of the film [secularism] must have appealed to her. We have been brought up in a secular atmosphere,” says Baba, adding that the Naseeruddin Shah-fronted movie is a tribute to their father, noted lyricist-poet Kaifi Azmi.
The film beautifully focuses on the protagonist Maryam’s bond with her father who unflinchingly supports her dreams. Shabana says the relationship resonated strongly with her as father Kaifi was the wind beneath her wings. “I find Maryam spirited and her father, warm and courageous. I had a wonderful relationship with my father, and Baba has a similar equation with his daughter Meghna. So, it seemed organic [to back a father-daughter story].” The actor marvels that through its young protagonist, the movie promotes the message of secularism. “It’s a small film with a big heart, and makes a distinction between religion and cultural heritage. It celebrates inclusiveness as an inherent strength of our beautiful country.”