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July 17, 2018

Mum’s The Word: How Shabana Azmi Is Altering The Perception Of The ‘Evil Stepmom’

Text by Meghna Pant. Illustration By Dhruv Tyagi

The actor has some terrific advice to give step-parents so they can successfully navigate this rather tricky role

The Good Other Mom

Shabana Azmi, 67, Actor

Being a stepmom is not about power or control, it’s about the struggle within yourself and doing what is right for your partner and stepchild(ren). It’s about how comfortable and happy the children are in their family and childhood. Veteran actor Shabana Azmi’s journey was no different when she married Javed Akhtar, who had two children. Fortunately her journey with the children, actor-director Farhan Akhtar and director Zoya Akhtar was not as rocky as expected.

“They were both very young and it is to their mother’s credit that she did not prejudice them against me. She is the light of their lives and it’s her generosity that helped us all tide through the initial years, which are the toughest.”

Despite being a formidable actor revered by millions, Shabana faced backlash for her decision. “There was a lot of censure and disappointment from fans who looked upon me as a role model for women. I had two choices: either I could have spoken up or kept quiet. I chose the latter because it’s a difficult time for everyone in the family, and to put them under further scrutiny was invasive and would have ended up hurting everyone. My close friends were my biggest support. I rationalised that I wanted to be with Javed more than anything else in the world and this backlash was inevitable.”

What made the union tougher was that her parents were not happy with her decision. “My mother was totally against it. I asked my father, ‘Do you think Javed is wrong for me?’ He answered, ‘He is not but the circumstances are.’ I told Abba, ‘But he is willing to change the circumstances. He will be just and honourable.’ My father replied, ‘Then he is the right person for you.’ And that was it. I often wonder what I would’ve done if Abba had said no!”

Since a stepmom cannot take the place of the biological mom, how did Shabana steer the children through their tantrums, teenage rebellion, heartbreak and all of the normal aches and pains of growing up?

“Just as I would have with my biological child,” the actor replies. “Sometimes with firmness, sometimes with kindness, sometimes with exasperation, but never with insults or humiliation. I tried to see things from their point of view.”

She fondly recalls some of the initial hiccups, “I think it’s difficult for children to decide what to call their stepmom. Aunty seems fake and you can’t say Mom the Second [laughs] so it is a struggle. Farhan was only 10 years old when I asked him to call me by my first name and I could sense his relief as the burden got lifted from his shoulders.”

The hard work and sensitivity paid off. Today, Farhan and Zoya share an excellent equation with Shabana. “They both make me laugh a lot. They are respectful but irreverent, which I find delightful. They are socially responsible adults and I like to think that, along with their parents, I’ve had some role to play in that.”

With divorce rates rising each year, remarriages are on the rise. Many men and women find themselves raising children who are not their biological kids. Shabana has some terrific advice to give step-parents so they can successfully navigate this rather tricky role.

“Give it time. Don’t push. Don’t try too hard. The hurt, the guilt, and the sense of betrayal need time to heal. There is no magic formula. When divorced parents behave in a civilised way with each other it becomes less painful. Both Javed and Honey (Irani) are good friends today and I respect that. Also, I am careful not to take liberties with the kids and do not pry into their private lives. Accord the children respect. Have healthy arguments but do not impose your views. Guide, do not command.”

It is mothers like Shabana who are altering the narrative of ‘evil stepmoms’. It’s time to change the conversation.

Next: Raveena Tandon

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