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published time By Sonali Velinker Kamat published time 20 Oct, 2015 Share image 0 Shares

Together they worked in some of Indian cinema’s most acclaimed films. By Shabana Azmi’s own admission, they had a lot in common — from their backgrounds and their cinematic preferences to their sense of style. Yet, while Smita Patil was alive, Shabana Azmi and the late actress “could never be friends.”


“The rivalry between us — some of it manufactured by the media and some of it real — caused tension,” Azmi admitted on October 17, as she stepped up to the podium to talk about her relationship with Patil, on a day that would have been the ‘Manthan’ star’s sixtieth birthday.

In an exquisite silk sari (that could easily have been one Smita may have chosen to wear), Shabana Azmi spoke eloquently about the complex equation between two actresses competing for the same parts. Despite sharing screen space and making history together in their Kanjivarams at Cannes, Smita and Shabana weren’t to see eye to eye in life.

Humble in her honesty on the occasion, Azmi admitted to regretting some of the “uncharitable remarks” she had made about Patil in their youth, while being thankful for the fact that their awkward relationship didn’t spill over into their equation with each other’s family.

Shabana Azmi & Smita Patel - Asli Yaari Stories


Looking back, Azmi recalled an instance when her mother happened to check into a hotel where Patil was staying, while on a shoot in Hyderabad. “Smita was already a big star by this time,” Azmi recollects, “and she had been allotted the best room in the hotel. When she heard my mother was expected, she immediately moved into a smaller room, so that my mother could be more comfortable.” This was all done in Patil’s characteristically simple manner, without Shaukat Azmi or Shabana even hearing about it. “When we learnt of Smita’s generosity a few days later, my mother insisted on giving up the room, but Smita would have none of it,” Azmi remembers, with a smile.

Despite their often-strained relationship, they shared a deep respect for each other’s family. Today, Shabana is a surrogate mother of sorts to Smita’s son Prateik; looking out for him as he finds his way in a world without his birth mother. Endearingly, Prateik addresses Azmi as “masi” and feels that the strong bond that unites them is almost tangible.

Family Ties


What could never be in the past, is palpable in the present. Smita Patil is gone — and with her is any ancient animosity between these two legendary talents. Now, Azmi is one of Patil’s most swaying supporters. “Today, in public memory,” says Azmi, “I feel I could well be Shabana Patil and she Smita Azmi.” With Patil’s family having embraced Azmi “as one of their own,” this is a friendship that has overcome petty politics and media meddling to develop into something pure and enduring.

When Azmi adds that “parallel cinema in India will never be mentioned without Smita Patil’s name emblazoned in golden letters,” you know this is not just a well-worded speech penned to mark a book release on Patil’s sixtieth birth anniversary, but a teary-eyed tribute from a true friend.


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