Tanvi Azmi remembers mother Usha Kiran as a strong, practical woman

On her mother's 17th death anniversary (9 March), actress Azmi gets nostalgic thinking about the growing-up days with her actress mother. 

Keyur Seta

Usha Kiran, a versatile actress who played a wide range of characters, flourished during Hindi cinema's golden period in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. With 300 films under her belt, Usha Kiran acted both in Hindi and Marathi films.

On her 17th death anniversary (9 March), Usha Kiran's daughter, actress Tanvi Azmi, got nostalgic about her mother. Recalling her days growing up with an actress mum, Azmi shared details about her mother’s career and some interesting anecdotes.

While speaking about her mother’s artistic qualities, Azmi revealed how her name used to appear before the male lead in credits. “I thought she was amongst the top-notch emotional actors of her time," she said. "All extremely strong women-oriented subjects came to her. That itself tells us what kind of performer she was. And there were a lot of Marathi films she carried on her shoulders single-handedly. In some films, the hero’s name came second, after her. All this is indicative of how much respect she had and how people liked her as an actor. I always found her to be an honest actor. She used to tell me that there has to be sincerity and honesty in whatever you do.”

Apart from Bala Zo Zo Re (1950), she found good roles in Patita (1953), Aulad (1954), Musafir (1957), Shikleli Bayko (1959) and Nazrana (1961). “When it comes to Marathi movies, I consider Bala Zo Zo Re and Shikleli Bayko her most memorable,” Azmi said.

Azmi recalled an interesting, funny incident that happened when she saw Bala Zo Zo Re for the first time. “I remember watching Bala Zo Zo Re very vividly. The character of her mother-in-law was quite terrible and she snatches the child away from her. I was so disturbed that I couldn’t sit in the theatre. I was continuously crying. I had to be taken out. Then from the door of the auditorium I was just peeping in while sobbing. I told my mother, ‘When I get married, I don’t want a mother-in-law.’ I said I would marry only if there was no mother-in-law in the house,” said Azmi, laughing heartily. 

Usha Kiran took a break from films when Tanvi was born and made a comeback with Bawarchi (1972). “She stopped acting because she didn’t want her daughter to grow up with caretakers," Azmi said. "She said I want to be around with my daughter when she is growing up. She resumed working much later, when I was in the 9th or 10th [class]. Hrishikesh Mukherjee approached her for Bawarchi.”

During her childhood, the young Tanvi never felt she belonged to a film family. She grew up like any other child. “There was no filmi atmosphere, even after she resumed work," Azmi recalled. "It was a Maharashtrian middle-class atmosphere at home. We celebrated festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi. As my father was a doctor, it was very education-based. Hence, I grew up just like any other child. It was a great mix with my parents. She was creatively and culturally rich and he was intellectually advanced.”

Generally in India’s middle-class households, children are encouraged to become doctors and engineers while the profession of films is looked down upon. But it was the opposite with Usha Kiran as a parent. Said Azmi, “I wasn’t too keen on acting. I just found it like [a] fun [activity]. In fact, I was very keen on becoming a doctor. But my mother didn’t want that. She said a large part of my life would go in studying and then I will have to set up my whole practice. She felt by the time I would be 40-45 years old, a major portion of life would have passed by. She was extremely practical about these things. She loved her career and industry so much that she was more than happy to see me join films.”

Usha Kiran used to do female-orientated roles at a time when a lot of progressive subjects were chosen. But in the 1990s, in mainstream Hindi cinema, the lead actress was mostly reduced to a prop. Surprisingly, Usha Kiran had no problem with this and actually appreciated it. 

“She was quite enamoured, surprised and impressed also," said Azmi. "She said what the girls did, she couldn’t even imagine doing. She felt it required a lot of spunk, guts and it’s not easy to dance around trees because you need to do it with a lot of conviction. For a solid role, you can find your way, but these characters are not real-life so it becomes doubly difficult to bring them from the imagination. She used to marvel at the way the girls carried out such roles.”

Azmi is currently shooting for Ashwani Dhir’s Atithii Iin London, which stars Kartik Aaryan, Paresh Rawal and Kriti Kharbanda. It is the second film in the franchise after Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? (2010). "It’s a completely different film," she said. "Let’s say the concept is the same. But the characters and story are different. In the first one, Pareshji played a character from Uttar Pradesh who is single. Here we are playing husband-and-wife. I am enjoying doing comedy after the intense Bajirao Mastani (2015). I wanted to do comedy after that film.”