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‘I am in love with Tabu,’ says Bangladeshi actress Azmeri Haque Badhon about her Khufiya co-star

Badhon played the title role in Rehana Maryam Noor, the first Bangladeshi film to be featured in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes Film Festival

Ratnalekha Mazumdar Calcutta Published 16.10.23, 04:12 PM
Azmeri Haque Badhon with her Khufiya co-star Tabu

Azmeri Haque Badhon with her Khufiya co-star Tabu Instagram/Azmeri Haque Badhon

Bangladeshi actress Azmeri Haque Badhon, who plays Heena Rehman aka Octopus in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Netflix film Khufiya, admits that she didn’t have to make any effort to make her character fall in love with Tabu. Badhon has previously worked in Srijit Mukherji’s web series Robindronath Ekhane Kawkhono Khete Aashenni and Shankha Dasgupta’s Guti, both of which put the spotlight on her for her unconventional choices. In 2021, her film Rehana Maryam Noor premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where Badhon turned heads in a Jamdani sari. In a freewheeling chat with The Telegraph Online, Badhon talked about her experience of working on Khufiya, the accolades coming her way and the life choices she has been making.

People across the border are appreciating your performance in Khufiya. Tell us how you are feeling.

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Azmeri Haque Badhon: The feeling is very different. What surprised me the most is that the Bangladeshi audience have become very mature and sensitive. They have responded very positively to Khufiya. I didn’t receive this kind of love and appreciation earlier. I am hopeful about a change coming. My character’s sexual orientation in Khufiya was a huge thing because many people in our subcontinent don’t consider their existence. The poetic romance and the chemistry between Tabu’s character and my character has been received positively. It’s the Vishal Bhardwaj magic. Vishal sir laughed when I told him it feels like a new onscreen jodi has arrived.

How did Khufiya happen?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: The whole incident is like a film! At the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Anurag Kashyap was at the premiere of our film Rehana Maryam Noor as a friend of our producer Jeremy Chua. Anurag praised our work and after the premiere, we all went for an adda. I took a photo with him, posted it on social media and tagged him. Vishal Bhardwaj’s casting director saw the picture and asked Anurag about me. They were looking for a Bangladeshi actress for Khufiya. I wasn’t even there on their list. After reaching Bangladesh, I rehearsed with Vishal sir’s team and gave an audition on Zoom. After that, the look test happened and we started the shoot.

What kind of discussions did you have with Vishal Bhardwaj?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: I was very scared about the audition with Vishal Bhardwaj sir but he came across as an extremely non-intimidating person from the very first moment. He said he loved my audition and that bit in my audition clip where I mentioned that I am a proud single mom and that I am much older than my character’s age. I told him that I had neither played a character like this before nor had I done any Hindi film. He assured me not to worry.

Before the script-reading session, he came to see me at the hotel, just to make me feel welcome and told the production team to take care of me. He’s the sweetest director I have ever worked with. I would also watch Tabu and Vishal sir work together. They knew what they were doing. I learnt a lot from watching them. Vishal sir’s team is like a family. There are so many women in the crew. In Bangladesh, we don’t usually see this. The ease came through in my work in Khufiya is because I was made to feel very comfortable.

Were you scared to be paired opposite Tabu?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: Yes, THE Tabu! I was very afraid to share screen with her. I love Tabu. People are talking about our chemistry, but they don’t know that I am in love with her. I didn’t have to force myself to get the look of admiration in my eyes. It’s absolutely genuine! (Smiles)

How did you create the sensuous body language to overpower Tabu’s Krishna Mehra?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: It’s Vishal Bhardwaj. He explained to me the subtext of every word. Working on Rehana Maryam Noor helped too, and I can memorise lines well as I was a very good student throughout my life. In Robindronath Ekhane Kawkhono Khete Aashenni, my co-actor Rahul Bose was amused because I had memorised all his lines and would give him cues.

How did the screen chemistry between you and Tabu happen?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: When we met, the first thing Tabu told me is that she has a friend in Bangladesh and her name is Champa, a noted actress with whom she had worked in Calcutta. It felt so good. She immediately made me very comfortable. After the script-reading session, Ali Fazal, Wamiqa Gabbi, Rahul Ram and I did a workshop with Naseeruddin Shah. For the second schedule, we went to Delhi. At the rehearsals, Tabu sat in front of me on a sofa. I was starstruck. She spoke to me in Bengali. She made coffee and offered snacks to all of us as we were in her room. While doing the car scene, my knee was shaking and I thought my voice cracked from nervousness, but Vishal sir told me that the camera was in love with me and Tabu also praised me. During the same car scene, we had to wait for a bit, so Tabu and I spoke about ourselves and bonded over a lot of things. It was a complete fangirl moment for me. My character had to overpower her, but she’s the one who made it easy for me.

Among filmmakers, did anyone praise you for Khufiya or approach you for work?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: Tony-da (Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, director of Pink and Lost) sent a message. He doesn’t know me at all. I couldn’t believe it when he said he loved my performance in Khufiya. I love his films because he’s one of those directors who understands emotions very well. Tabu and Wamiqa Gabbi also told me that people are looking for me as they are in love with my eyes! (Laughs)

But I don’t get too many offers. I am also choosy. I want to do women-centric films; in Bangladesh we don’t make too many films of that sort. I want to explore and I want to feel excited. I want to establish myself in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, women are like ornaments in films and men are the protagonists. We should have women directors and scriptwriters.

You said there was a change in your outlook since the Rehana Maryam Noor happened. What prompted that change given that you have been around for many years?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: I have been acting since 2006 but it was always on autopilot mode. I used to come to the sets, act, get paid and leave. I never watched any of my work. It was when I fought for the custody of my child in court that things started to change. People called me a witch, but I believe witches are rebels against wrongdoers.

My lawyer made me aware that, as per civil law, the mother could be the guardian of a child. I was educated and was earning, yet I was shackled; so I fought. I got the guardianship. I had to change six lawyers. I was 76 kg and in chronic depression, so I started going to the gym and also went to a therapist. Society taught me that acting isn’t a good profession, so I had no respect for my work earlier. I hadn’t realised that it was not true until Rehana Maryam Noor happened.

You have trained as a dentist but you didn’t pursue it, right?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: Yes, it’s because I just wanted to get married and have children. After my internship was over, I got married and conceived within two months. I had done only BDS, which wasn’t enough to start practising. I had to learn more. My teachers were disappointed when I discontinued because I was their favourite student.

What’s your current state of mind?

Azmeri Haque Badhon: There’s peace. Earlier, I was dissatisfied with life. I am content now. I want to enjoy every moment. I want to do roles that will have an impact on society and begin a conversation.

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