August 31, 2007

Guest post: Meeting Shabana Azmi at Cornell

In the comments to this post I asked SLP reader Angeles to tell us a little more about meeting Shabana Azmi at Cornell and what Shabana ji had to say for herself there. I reproduce Angeles's comments here, as the first in what I hope can be a new guest post feature here at SLP. I ask and encourage all of you out there to email me your thoughts, stories, reviews, or comments for future SLP guest posts.

Now, with a deep bow of thanks to Angeles, on to the guest post:

Shabana jumped just at hearing the term "Bollywood." She hates the term because it implies some kind of imitation of Hollywood, when in reality, it has a whole culture and life itself. She said people should talk about it as "Indian Film Industry" and mentioned that the amount of movies made there are more than double the amount made in Hollywood.

After Fire, we watched a documentary about Shabana. It showed a lot about Shabana's work but also some of her private life such as her mourning for her father's death. She was talking about it sitting in a porch on a very rainy day and you could tell just from her body language how she was feeling. It was moving, even Mother Nature showing empathy...

Shabana appeared after the documentary. She sat down as we clapped and cheered and the questions started. A gentleman started talking about India and Pakistan. He reported a conversation he had had with a Pakistani but he said it in Hindi and,unfortunately, I don't understand the language. At a certain point he rhetorically asked if he was being naive. What I figured was that he had said something about the division, maybe something having to do with peace between the two countries and the other man was not so friendly. Shabana told him that he was not being naive and talked about social and political issues present in India today, but as I said I missed a very important part of the conversation because of the language.

Later, there were a lot of questions about her acting (this was the idea, since her political and activist roles were to be shared on Wednesday). She repeated many concepts and anecdotes she's mentioned before, like Mehta telling her and Nandita to jump in bed the first day of rehersal; how Javed jokes about her "enjoying" kissing Das in the movie; being able to think "if I were..." when getting ready for a role in a movie; using art as a source to bring about social change; her upbringing in a house with so many people with certain political ideas and lifestyle and how that shaped her views. When asked if the roles she plays "affected" her in any way and how she handled that, she said that if anything affected her, she lives with somebody sensitive enough to realize something of the sort is going on and just leave her alone.

Also, she did comment that if you were able to understand Radha and Seeta you would be able to understand many "others," such as people with different ideas, lifestyles, preferences in general and thoughts in particular. One student asked her what Fire could give them,"American college students", featuring this relationship between two women... since "we have Brokeback Mountain." Shabana answered as a lightning "yes, but many years after Fire," gaining everybody's applause.

Something that called my attention during the movie, was two women's reaction to the love scenes. One of them (quite young) would appear "disturbed" and look somewhere else and another lady made loud comments, which I didn't understand, but she seemed angry. I expected that they would question Shabana about this or maybe tell her that they didn't like what the movie showed, or you know, just tell her with respect what they thought. But nobody said anything of the sort. We all commented on how nice it was to have her there.

After answering our questions (and singing a little bit to my delight!) she came down the stage and started signing autographs and posing with everybody for pictures. I own many of the movies she appears in, but I took Morning Raga for her to sign. It struck me that she asked me twice how I got to know about the movie. I was a little bit stupid, it was not easy for me to have a "normal" conversation with her, even though I just forgot everyone around... Instead of telling her that I read about her and follow her career and her social activism, I just said "because I love you?" My God, she just smiled, understanding, I guess, and when I told her I was nervous, she told me "don't be." I kept feeling stupid the following morning so I called the hotel and told them I needed to talk to her. They just put me through and she answered. I could tell her a couple of things I thought and actually told her about SLP and asked if she knew the blog (she said "yes, I know it").

She was so nice to everyone, patient and understanding.

My overall feeling is that on this day the main thing was to get to meet her. We were quite a big crowd that enjoyed meeting such a wonderful lady. I could not attend the following day, but it must have been very interesting. I hope we can get to know about it.

Carla, I write this comment to share this unique and important experience in my life with you and other readers who share the love for Shabana. If you allow a little piece of advice, next time you see her just talk to her as if you were writing. She is very understanding and can place herself in other people's shoes. How do I know? My half Italian half Spanish passion pushed me to hug her... she understood.

August 30, 2007

Sounds Like Power metapost - a banner day

I get occasional questions and comments about the banner images at the top of this page. There are about twenty different banners right now - each time you load the page you should get a different one, selected at random. Go ahead, reload a few times and check them out. I won't tell.

Many of them are just about the pretty pictures, but some, like the one above, have a little more to them then that. Please thank Beth for those. (Come to think of it, she made most of the pretty ones too.)

Of all of Beth's contributions, this one gets the most comments (click for full size):

That's from a press conference relating to the launch of Jet Airways transatlantic routes, or something. Yep, that's Shah Rukh Khan, and we have it on good authority that this exchange actually took place. (*)

I'm not sure which one is my favorite. They are all selected from screencaps and other pictures that I love, so I can really get lost gazing at any of them. If you twisted my arm, I think I'd choose this one


because, as I've said before, I am very partial to Shabana ji's looks when she was in her 40s. Not that she wasn't gorgeous before or hasn't been since!

Anyway, enjoy the banners. I think they are great fun, and I will continue to add more from time to time, as the muse strikes me (well, really as the muse strikes Beth).

In other news, reader Angeles reports on meeting Shabana Azmi, in a comment on this post, and confirms that Shabana ji knows about SLP. I still have to suspect that that guestbook comment was not the real deal, but it matters less now, because either way I know that she knows we're here. The news makes me all nervous and goose-pimply. I cannot imagine what it's like to be a world-famous person or a widely revered one; I suppose she takes tributes like this one in stride. Still, I deeply hope that what we're doing here pleases her; I like to think that SLP is a little different from the average Bollywood star fansite and I especially like to think that Shabana ji has noticed that.

Finally, you might have noticed that the "recent comments" links in the sidebar are broken. This appears to be some kind of issue with the comment feed at Blogger's end; it's supposedly being worked on.

(*) No, we don't.

August 29, 2007

I could have done better, had I been there

The Cornell Sun has a not terribly insightful summary of Shabana Azmi's appearance at the university yesterday. The author doesn't have much understanding of her subject or of the context in which she dwells. For example, the author opens the article by explaining Shabana ji's disdain for stereotypes of Hindi cinema, and then goes on to presume each and every one of those stereotypes in the remainder of the article. It's too bad that the Cornell Sun couldn't find a staff member who had actually seen a Hindi film, or had a clue who Shabana Azmi was, to write this piece. The author describes the opening scene of Fire as "deceptively suitable Bollywood material, replete with flower meadows and singing girls." Come again? (*) Very disappointing.

(*) For those who can't replay Fire on demand in their minds' eyes, the film does indeed open in a mustard field. There are no singing girls in sight, though - just a small child on a picnic with her parents.

Shabana ji as audience

I can like something abstract, I can like something very dramatic.... I have a very eclectic choice as far as films go. But I do hold good performances as essential to my being interested in watching a film.
-- Shabana Azmi

Source: The video linked below, a brief interview from late 1999 or early 2000 that is just lovely to watch. Shabana ji's comments about the connections between her work as actor, activist, and Parliamentarian are interspersed with clips from one of my most favorite movies, Godmother.

August 28, 2007

Loins of Punjab Presents - and Shabana - to open SAIFF

This is great news. The South Asian International Film Festival in New York opens October 3 with a screening of Loins of Punjab Presents as well as the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Shabana Azmi, who will be in attendance. The SAIFF website has more, including ticket purchase information (tickets go on sale September 1), and Manish at Ultrabrown has more still, with information about related events and appearances.

I said earlier that I hadn't worked hard enough this summer to justify a mid-week trip to Cornell to hear Shabana ji speak today. Attending SAIFF would also require taking a couple days off for mid-week travel. I am going to use it as my motivation to haul a** this next month so I can feel, come the first week of October, that I deserve to be rewarded rather than punished. I hope to see you there.

August 27, 2007

Gratuitous screencaps: Khamosh (1985)

Time for some more gratuitous screencaps, this time from Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Khamosh. I was just thinking about this film, which is one my most cherished favorites of Shabana ji's films, when I realized that I had somehow left it out of part 2 of the Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi (Cog in a brilliant machine), where it so deservedly belongs. I've fixed that now, but to rectify the grave injustice, I'll highlight Shabana ji's role in the film here. You can also read about it on Filmi Geek.

Shabana ji's character in Khamosh was a stretch for her, one that tested her range as it had never been tested before: she played a National Award-winning film actor named Shabana Azmi.

She's on a movie set at a mountain resort with co-stars Amol Palekar and Soni Razdan (also playing themselves) when people start dying - it's a rather Agatha Christie-esque story, a small group of people confined to a remote location, criss-crossed with passions and rivalries, and someone among them is a murderer. But who? We won't get to find out until Shabana ji faces him herself:

Despite its gruesome premise, there is a great deal of humor in the film. Khamosh's version of Shabana Azmi sleepwalks,

reads gossip magazine articles about herself,

and makes improbable declarations like this one:

Shabana ji also discovers all the bodies in the film. Here she is discovering the third:

And about to discover the second.

She helps Naseeruddin Shah (not playing himself) investigate the crimes,

And she examines weaponry with a glint in her eye.

All that, and it's an excellent film, too.

August 24, 2007

Two songs in Loins of Punjab Presents

Once again there's no video in this week's Shabana-gaana - instead just a little more on Shabana Azmi's own singing, which I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago.

Mumbai Mirror has a story about Manish Acharya's Loins of Punjab Presents (mentioned previously on SLP here and here) that talks about the two songs Shabana ji sang for the film. She has performed two classic filmi songs - and Manish ji will give no clues as to what they might be, so we'll just have to be patient. (I'm secretly hoping that one of them will be "Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko," but I guess there's really an infinity of possibilities.)

I can't wait to see this - I really can't wait. As I mentioned before, the film is slated to open in India in the second week of September, but I don't know of any U.S. distribution plans yet.

Hat tip to Anamika from the BollyWHAT? forums for the link.

At least it's not the Congress of Interplanetary Initiatives

Thanks to Sally, who emailed me this morning, I know of one more stop on Shabana Azmi's itinerary for this week's trip to the U.S.: Salt Lake City, for a conference called the Congress of Planetary Initiaives. Its mission statement:

The Object is to locate all possible Areas of Agreement that can serve to foster a World-Wide Affiliation of Peoples who can, while maintaining and respecting Difference, sincerely find Common Cause that will sustain the continued existence of Planetary Life forms under threat today by both Violence and Greed.
That, to my jaded postmodern mind, sounds a little too mushy to really be of much use, but their hearts are clearly in the right place, and I wish them the best. (What's with all the capitalized common nouns though?)

August 23, 2007

Coming up empty

I have been earnestly searching for information on two unrelated events and I've come up completely empty on both. Please, if you have a line on either, let me know, either by leaving a comment here or sending email to

  • First, Shabana Azmi's upcoming trip to the United States. I know she is speaking at Cornell next week. Has anyone heard of any other appearances?
  • Second, has anyone come across any text (in Hindi or English) of Javed Akhtar's poem Pandra Agast (15 August) which Javed sahib and Shabana ji recited in Parliament's special session for Independence Day last week? I suppose it's possible that Javed sahib didn't want it reproduced, because I cannot find it anywhere. The closest I could find is this article, which includes a few lines that may or may not be quoted from the English version of the poem.
Here is one more tidbit of news: At the Toronto International Film Festival next month, there will be a screening of four short films highlighting issues relating to AIDS in India. The project was spearheaded by Mira Nair, and Shabana Azmi is in one of the four films. See the last segment of this report on the TIFF blog for more.

August 22, 2007

If women leaders ruled the world ...

I’d hope that they would transform the very notion of power itself, so that it would be not about them wielding power on the weak, but about a sharing of power.
-- Shabana Azmi

(Source: Koffee with Karan, aired August 12, 2007)

August 20, 2007

Shabana Azmi to appear at Cornell

Thanks for my friend Chris for the news that Shabana ji is speaking at Cornell University next week. I'm sure I won't be able to go - I haven't worked hard enough this summer to justify taking a day or two off to make the six-hour drive each way! But I hope some of you will get to go. And when Shabana ji is in the U.S. she usually makes more than one appearance, so please let me know if you hear of any others and I will do the same.

August 19, 2007

"The Beat" brief video interview

On a television show called The Beat, Shabana Azmi describes, in two minutes, how she was shaped by growing up in Kaifi and Shaukat's household and playing socially charged roles. Once again, there's nothing really new here, but do you ever tire of watching these little clips? I don't.

August 18, 2007

Swami (1977)

My 25th Shabana Azmi film (if you don't count the execrable Son of the Pink Panther; I would certainly prefer to blot it from my memory) was Basu Chatterjee's 1977 film Swami.

You can read my comments on Swami here, at Filmi Geek. I enjoyed the film, but I was troubled by its message - succinctly put by Filmi Geek commenter Amodini - that "a woman's mind came second to 'homeliness'."

I think the film's arc would have been easier for me to take with another actor in the lead role. Probably at age 25 or so, at the delicate nascence of her career, Shabana ji did not make a habit of turning down meaty starring roles just because they weren't feminist enough. Or perhaps she simply didn't care, having not yet internalized her parents' view that "art should be an instrument for social change." Either way, it was tough for me to see the character she gave us in the first 45 minutes of the film spiral and sink and ultimately be broken.

I had a thought as I was writing this that there might be another, subversive reading to Mini's sadness at the end of the film. A film that wanted to make the pro-traditional, pro-homeliness point might show her being happy and relieved that her ordeal is over; instead, *Swami* shows her misery precisely because she knows what has been taken from her. I will have to watch again.

And it won't hurt me to watch again, I must say, because as a piece of Shabaniana Swami is completely delicious. She looks lovely, young and girlish and sweet, and she wears a terrific array of simple but colorful cotton saris - so many that I completely lost count. She's simply beautiful, or beautiful simply - not glamorous, just lovely. There's a poutiness in her face that she extends to her body language as well, something in her Filmfare-award-winning performance that is natural and girlish and not entirely graceful, yet very enchanting. Have a look (click on the pictures for larger versions).

August 17, 2007

Geek's guide to Shabana Azmi, part 2 - cog in a brilliant machine

Welcome to the second chapter of the Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi - Cog in a Brilliant Machine. To read more about the Geek's Guide check out the Introduction and Part 1 - Iconic Roles.


This category is for outstanding films in which Shabana ji's character was not the focus of the story. Some are ensemble films that have no single central character; in others, Shabana ji had more of a supporting role - but they are all fabulous, excellent films, among my favorites.

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). Three guys, three girls, and all sorts of syncretic symbolism, wrapped up in a rollicking masala package. Our girl had the least screen time of the six principals, but it's not easy to forget her hitching a ride with Vinod Khanna and giving him the hard sell, or taking in the laundry in the scene of domestic bliss in the one little piece of a song that is picturized on her. It's a role that certainly could have been played by just about anyone, but it doesn't matter, since it's a great film that should be seen regardless.

Parvarish (1977). Not quite up to the standard of masala genius set by Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish makes up for being a slightly weaker film by offering a much more generous helping of Shabana ji, who here has nearly full co-heroine status. And if you want to see young , raw proto-Shabana trying on the avatar of masala heroine, Parvarish (or the equally trippy Fakira, in which she is the lead heroine) is where you should turn. She plays a pickpocket and small-time con artist named Shabo who, together with her sister Neetu (Neetu Singh of course) set out to mend their ways and win the love of their respective heroes - Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan - twirling exuberantly through some of the wackiest songs you'll ever see.

Shatranj ke khilari (1977).
Shabana ji has played many a neglected wife in her career, but only in Satyajit Ray's lovely little multi-layered fugue on the sunset of the Mughal imperial tradition is she neglected in favor of a game of chess. It's a small role but a terrifically bitter one, as she attempts ever more drastic gambits to win back her husband's attention. My teacher described this role as one of the "hottest" of Shabana ji's career, and I think it fits - hot-headed, hot-blooded, and smoking hot.

Junoon (1979). As in Shatranj ke khilari, Shabana ji plays a neglected Awadhi wife in this smashing, gritty film by Shyam Benegal; but the similarities end there. Her character is dark, intense, wounded, angry, and nearly powerless, as she attempts to manage her rage when her husband (Shashi Kapoor) proposes to make a second wife out of the young Anglo girl who is his obsession. Her attempts to regain control of her marriage are compelling, and her final scene in the film is bitterly heartbreaking.

Khamosh (1985). This light thriller by Vidhu Vinod Chopra is one of my favorite of Shabana ji's films. Apart from being a great whodunit story, it pokes fun at filmi conventions and screws around with the viewer's sense of reality in some delightful ways. It takes place on the set of a film that stars Amol Palekar, Soni Razdan, and Shabana Azmi - the three actors play themselves, and it's clear they've done so with a healthy sense of humor. The Khamosh version of Shabana Azmi jumps up and down like a schoolgirl when she learns that she's won another National Film Award. She also sleepwalks, reads about herself in gossip magazines, and declares "I don't understand politics."

Dharavi (1992). Shabana ji plays a frustrated and complex woman in Sudhir Mishra's excellent look at daily life in the slums of Bombay. The focus of the story is on her husband, played Om Puri, but her subplots add texture and, in their contrast to Om Puri's character's big dreams and schemes, illuminate some of the quotidian aspects of slum life - fighting for water, working in a sweatshop. It's a sensitive film and she gives a delicate performance - also (on a shallower note) looking her best.

Mrityudand (1997). This is simply a fantastic film. It is primarily Madhuri Dixit's show, and Shabana ji's character - yet another neglected wife - doesn't really get going until the second half. But it's well worth waiting for, as it includes a steamy affair, a defiant verbal smackdown of her husband, a nd even a wet sari scene (!). Shabana ji's climactic scene carries interesting parallels to the climax of the contemporaneous Fire; each is a burst of measured rage from a woman who, after a long life of unquestioning submission, has discovered her autonomy (particularly sexual autonomy). And it's a top-notch film all around.

Hari-bhari (2000). More excellent Shyam Benegal, Hari-bhari presents episodic but intertwining stories about the repercussions of fertility (or its absence) on five women in a Muslim family. Shabana ji's character is more an abused wife than a neglected one, tossed out of her home when she dares, on the advice of her doctor, to suggest to her husband that her difficulty having a son may be due to his deficiency rather than hers. Other stories touch on marriage and sexuality, contraception and religion, and education for women. Shabana ji's character is sad and nearly broken, but there's a streak of fight left in her and she's determined to craft a more autonomous life for her teenage daughter. In one of her standout scenes, she misinterprets the girl's innocent questions and mistakenly concludes - to her horror - that her daughter is pregnant.

15 Park Avenue (2005). I wavered on where to put this film, as it is flawed, and I don't love it as much as the other films in this category. But Shabana ji is great in it, and so is Konkona Sen Sharma - to the extent the weaknesses in the script allow them to be - so here it is. Besides, Shabana ji's character is a physicist; how can I not love that? Hearing that voice lecturing on quantum mechanics - the domain of my previous career - sends shivers up my spine. And it's an interesting character for Shabana ji to play - she's strong and formidable, yet also flawed and damaged, a bitter control freak who cannot manage a personal relationship.

Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (2007). This is a delightful, adorable film, and Shabana ji plays a great character with a tragic past and a grounded present. Her character (together with Boman Irani's character) provides an anchor for the movie's light-hearted tone, bringing the gravity of life experience to the ensemble cast, but with enough warmth and humor that the weight isn't unbalancing. She's placid, wry, kind-hearted, and a leader by example - and she dances, too!

August 16, 2007

On 60 years of independence - special event in Parliament

I've read a number of news reports (like this one) about Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi's appearance at a special session of Parliament yesterday commemorating India's 60th Independence Day. Javed sahib wrote and recited a poem for the occasion, Pandra agast (August 15th); Shabana ji recited an English translation.

I'm looking for the text of this poem to share with you, as well as photographs of the event; I'll let you know as soon as I find either. If you come across either before I do can you please let me know?

UPDATE: Subhash Jha wrote a nice little piece about the poem that's making the rounds of the wire services now. I still haven't found the poem itself though.

August 15, 2007

Still more on Koffee with Karan

Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar's appearance on Koffee with Karan. I can't stop watching it, and I can't stop talking about it. Can you blame me? It was a pure delight.

Daddy's Girl, in her astute comment on a previous KwK post, highlighted just about all of the best parts. I loved the opening of the show, when Javed sahib rattled off a list of serious topics, and Shabana ji exclaimed, "As if we're not capable of discussing anything else!" I loved it when Shabana ji insisted on expanding her rapid-fire answer about the advice she would give Sonia Gandhi. I loved the gentle ease - and the gentle teasing - between Shabana ji and Javed sahib. I loved the funny stories and the cuteness. I loved the warmth of their interactions with one another and with Farhan. And I loved the heels:

They can crush you like a bug.

But what I loved most of all was the uncalculated naturalness of the entire conversation. On another forum yesterday I found myself defending Shabana ji's uncensored remark about Umrao Jaan against the charge that it was arrogant and disrespectful of the other people involved in the movie.

Well, it was. It was arrogant, and Shabana ji's reaction upon having said it made quite clear that she knew she shouldn't have. It was unguarded, real, and completely endearing. I think Shabana ji does have a touch of arrogance about her at times. Like most people, she is a mix of different things, and along with that touch of arrogance there is genuine self-awareness as well. Her comments about the director who wanted her to play "filmi mad," or about Sanjay Dutt saying "please madam I have to go" - these weren't meant to say "I'm superior because I am so much more serious about acting than everyone around me." They were meant to say "Sometimes I lose all sense of proportion and need other people to remind me to rein it in."

In one show she both took things too seriously - the Sonia Gandhi comments, for example - and made fun of herself for taking things too seriously. Beautiful!

Because today is Wednesday, it's time for a bon mot, and so I'll offer one from the show itself, some words of wisdom about sustaining a relationship:

I think marriage is an every day adjustment and I don't think society prepares us for that. There is this rosy picture ki ab aise honewala hai (*) and then you never need to work towards it. I think you need to work towards it.
(*) "that now it will be just so."

And finally, in a startling display of excess even by Sounds Like Power standards, please enjoy the following slideshow featuring the abundance of screen captures of Shabana ji that I found myself taking while watching the show.

Now who says Hema Malini is the most stunning woman on this earth? Maaf kijiyega, Shabana ji, lekin I beg to differ.

August 14, 2007

The couplet

Is everyone dying to know: what were the lines that Javed sahib spun on Koffee with Karan, when Karan asked him to describe Shabana ji in a couplet?

I listened to it many times, Urdu dictionary in hand, and I think I've got it; I learned some new Urdu words. I can't write in Urdu (yet) so I hope Javed sahib will forgive me for putting it down in Devanagari. I think he will.

खुश-शक्ल भी है वह, यह अलग बात है मगर
हमको हमेशा ज़हीन लोग अज़ीज़ थे |

(khush-shakl bhii hai voh, yeh alag baat hai magar
hamko hamesha zahiin log aziiz the.)

She is quite good-looking, but setting that aside
Intelligent people have always been precious to me.
vaah vaah! kya baat hai.

(There was a couplet about Karan too, but I haven't really put the effort in on that one.)

August 13, 2007

Koffee with Karan redux

The show has aired - Koffee with Karan featuring Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, and Farhan Akhtar. I watched it here; this is a flawed capture that is missing a key segment. Eventually it will be available legally here and I will watch it again, in full, then. [UPDATE: until the official version goes up, here is another source - here you can see the crucial missing segment, in which Shabana ji talks about what it's like to be married to a poet.]

It was a lot of fun; a lot of smiling and laughing and teasing. Some of the highlights for me included Javed sahib ribbing Shabana ji for treating things very seriously and analytically - he said she takes a joke as if it were a riddle, and tries to solve it, picking it apart and turning it over and over.

I do that too.

On my second viewing I'll see if I can overanalyze the show as well. For now, though, I'll leave you with my very favorite moment of all. At the tail end of the show, Karan asked her about reprising her mother's role in Umrao Jaan, and they discussed the film for a moment.

Shabana ji: I loved the clothes I wore in the film and my scenes were delicious.
Karan: And what did you think of the film in its entirety?
Shabana ji: I liked myself.

The sheepish smile that followed this was utterly priceless. Still, this is a point on which Shabana ji and I see completely eye to eye. She was delicious, and she was the best thing about Umrao Jaan, by a lot.

Take the time to watch the show; it's a pleasant look at Javed sahib and Shabana ji in their element, holding court and commanding attention.

Folks, I love this woman. I just love her. And I feel so fortunate not just to be sharing the planet with her, but to be doing so in the age of the internet, so that I get to know that she exists and study her work and see her television appearances just hours after they air on the other side of the globe. Isn't that truly a marvelous thing?

August 12, 2007

Shabana ji to preside over jury at inaugural Asia Pacific Screen Awards reports that Shabana Azmi has been tapped as president of the international jury at the inaugural Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The ceremony will take place in Australia this November.

The best part of the article is not the news, but Shabana ji's resume, which fills out about half the text of the piece. Here's an excerpt, if you are looking for inspiration:

She is the only Asian actress to have a retrospective of her films at the New York Film Festival (2002).

Azmi is a noted activist who has been involved in the rights of women, development, reproductive health, housing for the economically weaker sections, public health and HIV AIDS.

In 1992, she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund and, in 2006, she was awarded the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award for her work with the slum dwellers of Mumbai.

She is a member of the National Integration Council, headed by the Prime Minister of India, a member of the National Aids Commission (of India) and was nominated in 1997 as a member of the upper house of the Indian parliament.

August 10, 2007

"Phirse aaiyo badra bidesi," Namkeen (1982)

This week's Shabana-gaana is all about the pretty.

As of this writing I've not yet seen Namkeen - but it's in the stack and I'm looking forward to it as it has more of my favorite names associated with it than I can count. Directed by Gulzar, music by R.D. Burman, starcast including Sanjeev Kumar, my latest crushasaurus Sharmila Tagore, and - of course - Shabana Azmi. It's pretty much my dream movie, at least on paper.

All of seen of it so far is this one song. "Phirse aaiyo badra bidesi" - this beautiful song, shot in gorgeous natural scenery, with nothing to distract from Shabana ji looking as absolutely lovely as ever. Watch the song here. And so smashing is the view that I cannot resist sharing another screencap.

August 9, 2007

Shouldn't I get some kind of award for this much devotion?

So how much do I love Shabana Azmi? Enough to watch Son of the Pink Panther.

I didn't plan to watch it. I've got enough DVDs lying around waiting to be watched that if I set out to spend an evening with milady I could do better. Much better. But when I saw this one among my cable provider's offerings, I couldn't resist giving it a look.

I can think of a number of reasons why, at a certain time in her life, Shabana ji would have been interested in testing the waters of Hollywood productions. And some of the Hollywood movies she did in those days were probably not half bad.

Come to think of it, Son of the Pink Panther is also not half bad. It is all bad. (Blake Edwards is responsible for this film, as he is pretty much all of the Pink Panther franchise; he's also responsible for one of my favorite films of all time, Breakfast at Tiffany's. I guess we all have good days and bad days.) IMDB users collectively have given Son of the Pink Panther a rating of 3.3 out of 10 stars. 3.3, folks. That doesn't crack IMDB's bottom 100 - thank God for films like Teen Wolf Too and Shanghai Surprise - but even Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space, which has cult status as the "worst film ever made," has 3.4 stars. Even Warren Beatty's legendary flop Ishtar gets 3.5. Son of the Pink Panther is in some illustrious company, folks.

So what is Shabana Azmi doing in this film? Looking gorgeous, mostly, and outclassing every actor with whom she shares the screen. But even she can't spin gold from the dreadful dialogue or provide any kind of direction to the plot. And she's only on screen for about 4 minutes all told, which left me wading through 91 minutes of incoherent story and tired slapstick.

There you are; "the queen."

Hooray! She doesn't appear until about 35 minutes into the film, but it's worth the wait, because she looks completely fabulous. See that naughty smile?

This lady is up to no good. She is the wife of the emir or sultan or whatever he is of Lugash, the Pink Panther franchise's favorite fictional Middle Eastern nation. The emir's daughter (by his first wife, now deceased) has been kidnapped by some baddies of unspecified provenance, who demand $100 million in exchange for her safe return, plus the emir's abdication. The emir doesn't seem all that concerned about his daughter, and neither does the queen. I think that's because she's behind the plot. But don't quote me on that, because such details of the film's storyline are very sketchy - what the queen is actually up to is never quite made clear. Perhaps she is scheming for the overthrow of the emir, in a bid to grab the throne for her lover, Sinister Military Man. But I'm not certain.

I don't think the crummy screencaps (actually photographs of my TV screen) are really doing justice to the hotness of Shabana, and certainly not to the atrocity of the dialogue.

Shabana: He knows that we are sleeping together.
Sinister Military Man: Do you think that is all he knows?
Shabana: Yes, or by now you would be soup for my supper! *kiss* (Actually, a Bollywood-style fake kiss. What's that all about?)

Later, she phones Sinister Man to confirm some details of the sinister plan, or something. Again, the point of this telephone call is not entirely clear. Sinister Man is in bed with another woman, but he pauses in mid-frolic to answer the phone.

Shabana: Are you alone?
Sinister Man: No. I am in bed with a beautiful woman.
Shabana: Don't tease. Not even in fun.

Vaah, vaah! Javed sahib himself could not have done better. (That's sarcasm, folks.)

That's about it for Shabana ji's scenes. Eventually the film's hero - Inspector Clouseau's son, hence the title - tracks down the princess and, in his familiar blundering way, manages to rescue her. The fate of the queen and her unfaithful mustachioed lover is left unresolved. The last time we see them, they are looking perturbed at the news that Clouseau Jr. is on his way to their little kingdom. "That can mean only one thing," says the queen dramatically, but she doesn't share with us what that one thing might be, and they do not figure in either the film's climax or its denoument.

I can't say for sure that Son of the Pink Panther is Shabana Azmi's worst movie ever. There are bound to be some true clunkers in a career that has generated 140 films. Even today about half of her films are not available on DVD, and this suggests that there are some real stinkers that have been justly forgotten in the mists of time. Still, it's hard to imagine Shabana ji in a film much worse than this one. And yet I sat through it, just for a few moments of milady. Aisa mera pyaar hai!

Shabana on the nature of Indian cinema

This is who we are. This is the kind of film we make: melodrama, kitsch, action, dance, drama all rolled into one, take it or leave it. And we suggest you take it.
-- Shabana Azmi

(Source: the BBC interview mentioned here.)

August 8, 2007

Koffee with Karan excerpt

Sorry for all the goo-headed squeeing about this upcoming TV appearance, but I am positiely vibrating with excitement. IndiaFM has an excerpt from Karan Johar's interview with Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, and Farhan Akhtar.

Karan: I am very nervous today because I’m feeling compelled to sound very clever and intellectual and very social… socially relevant!
Shabana Azmi: And I am feeling very nervous because I am compelled to be very frothy and light!

In other news, my dear SLP readers, I have a treat for you - I have watched what is possibly really and truly the worst movie of Shabana Azmi's diverse and magnificent career, and I will be reporting on it right here on SLP very soon. Here's a hint: it's not Bada din, and it's not Mardon wali baat. In fact, it's not even a Hindi film. Stay tuned.

August 7, 2007

The next best thing to "Coffee with carla"

Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar's appearance on Koffee with Karan won't air until August 12, but I've already gone goo-headed(*) in anticipation. Here's a breathless preview that lists just a few of the burning questions we'll get answers to:

"Which film, besides Don, deserves a remake according to Javed Akhtar? Which recent song does he wish he had written? How would he describe Koffee with Karan in a couplet? Which Don does he prefer- the old one or the new one? Who according to Shabana ji is the most talented actress in Indian cinema? Who according to her is the most stunning looking woman? If she had Sonia Gandhi's private number, what would she like to tell her?"
If this were Coffee with carla (no arrant Ks in my world) things would be a little different. I wouldn't bother asking who is the most talented actress in Indian cinema or the most stunning, because the answer, obviously, would be sitting right there on my couch. Instead, I'd turn to my List of Impertinent Questions (the "LIQ") (**) - that collection of facts about Shabana ji that are absolutely none of my business but that I'm dying to know anyhow.

Until Shabana ji and Javed sahib find their way to Coffee with carla, though, we'll make do with Karan Johar's interview. I'm not sure yet where to find it, but I think it will be available for download at one of these two websites. Stay tuned!

(*) That was just for you, Beth.

(**) So was that.

Akhtar-Azmi family on Koffee with Karan

I've just learned that Shabana ji, Javed sahib, and Javed's son Farhan Akhtar are this week's guests on Karan Johar's TV chat show Koffee with Karan. I'll be back with more once the episode is available on line.

Loins of Punjab Presents slated for September release in India

Great news for Loins of Punjab Presents - a distributor called PVR has bought the India rights for the film and plans to release it next month.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the US distribution is as prompt. In the meantime, I hope some of SLP's readers in India will see it and report back here.

(Previous SLP posts on Loins of Punjab Presents here and here)

August 5, 2007

BBC interviews Shabana and Javed

BBC interviewer Noel Thompson sat down separately with Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar last year, probably on the same day, though the interviews aired about a month apart.

Watch the interview with Shabana ji here. There wasn't a lot in this interview that I hadn't heard before - it covers approximately the same territory as the Charlie Rose interview, for example - but if I were the sort of person who got tired of watching stuff like this, well, I wouldn't have this blog, would I? It's interesting to hear Mr. Thompson challenge Shabana ji a little bit; it gets her going, and she responds with energy, so it's a good interview tactic. Shabana ji's voice strikes me as a little hoarse; I wonder how many interviews she'd done that day. There are some nice lines lurking in there ... rather than highlighting them here I think I'll hoard them for posting as "bon mots" later on.

Here, watch the interview with Javed sahib. What strikes me immediately about this is that Javed sahib flatly contradicts his wife's oft-repeated optimistic view that the rise of the multiplex is the best thing that could happen to Indian cinema. He says that the multiplex is sucking the soul from Indian cinema. I suppose it's not too shocking to hear a view like this from a man who wrote so many of India's masala classics. Still, all of his comments have a bit of the tone of the curmudgeon, which he acknowledges when he notes that the present is never considered the golden age.

Dus kahaniyaan

Those Amitabh Bachchan fans don't know how good they have it, with Big B gracing six or eight films a year with his formidable presence, often even in starring roles. Here at SLP, we have to exercise a bit more patience, enduring long waits between new-release cinematic visits with Shabana Azmi.

I don't begrudge milady her selectivity when it comes to making movies - there are other pursuits that are more important to her at the moment, whether social activism or socializing, she has no responsibility to appear in more movies just because I'd like to see her. Even so, I look forward to each new appearance with great eagerness. 2007 has thus far brought the magnificent Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd., along with great accolades for Loins of Punjab Presents, though I may not be able to see that one for some time. And before the year is out, there will be one more chance to see Shabana ji on the big screen, in White Feather Productions' Dus Kahaaniyan ("ten stories"), a multi-story experimental film featuring ten unconnected tales spun by ten different directors, scheduled for October release.

Dus Kahaniyaan is particularly exciting because it marks the first time that Shabana ji and Naseeruddin Shah will appear together on screen in almost 20 years. Their contribution to Dus Kahaniyaan is a 10-minute short called Rice Plate by Rohit Roy, in which Shabana ji plays a Tamilian Brahmin woman. Here's a Times of India article about that from a couple of months ago with more on the film. And here is the poster for Dus Kahaniyaan (click for a larger version):

And a close-up of the bit that's most relevant to this blog:

I can't wait to see more, and of course when I do you will be the first to know.

August 3, 2007

Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi, part 1 - Iconic roles

Welcome to the Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi, part 1 - Iconic roles. For an introduction to the Guide, see this post. You can click on any of the film titles to see the corresponding Filmi Geek review - I've tried to keep the Guide brief by not duplicating what can already be found there.


These are what I see as Shabana Azmi's career-defining films, the films that encapsulate her essence. They are iconic both of the woman herself and of her place in Hindi film. They are also (not surprisingly) much beloved by me.

Ankur (1974). Shabana ji's first film, and Shyam Benegal's too, Ankur is not just career-defining but genre-defining, setting a standard for Hindi parallel cinema. Shabana ji was fresh out of school, very green, with glamorous aspirations. But she worked very hard at her preparation, and nailed the role of an illiterate villager well enough to snag the first of her five National Film Awards with a performance that is taut and physical. The story is as iconic of Shyam Benegal as the role is of Shabana ji - it explores grand themes of class and caste conflict (as well as the male-female power dynamic) through a close study of the interactions of a very small number of people.

Arth (1982). What a film. The first time I tried to watch Arth, the copy I got from my local grocer turned was defective and wouldn't play. Once I told this story to my teacher. "Ooooh," she said, "that's not good. Don't mess with that movie." Shabana ji's character, Pooja, is inspiring, a woman who has no idea of her own strength until her life falls apart around her. Shabana ji cites Arth as both a personal and professional turning point in her life, and it's not hard to understand why. Thank goodness that she and Mahesh Bhatt had the tenacity to fight for the bold ending when their distributors wanted it softened and traditionalized. Oh, and National Film Award #2 for Shabana ji.

Masoom (1983). A number of very good films feature the pairing of Shabana Azmi with Naseeruddin Shah; their understated styles are well suited to one another and they interact with an ease and naturalness that is very unstylized and believable. Masoom offers Shabana as a grounded character stretched to breaking by tension of strong emotions - pain and anger at her husband's infidelity, and a mixture resentment and maternal compassion toward the innocent boy who is the product of it. Watch with hanky close at hand - there are some truly heartbreaking moments.

Fire (1996). The first time that I saw this film, it resonated on many levels simultaneously; among other things, it was my introduction to Shabana Azmi and can fairly be said to have started me down the path I'm on today, the path that includes Filmi Geek, my involvement with Jaman, my study of Hindi, and so much else. I know some people perceive Deepa Mehta's work as exploitative, as propagating among western audiences denigrating stereotypes of Indian life and culture. I don't see her films that way; her work, Fire and Earth in particular, fed what became my great interest in Indian culture and Indian movies. As for Shabana ji's work in Fire - masterful is not too grand a word to describe it. She takes a quiet, introspective character, a woman of few words, and fills the screen with silent emotion, intensity within stillness. It's a performance as good as any of Shabana ji's National Film Award performances.

Godmother (1999). One of Shabana ji's most entertaining characters, and a performance that netted her fifth National Film Award. Rambhi is an illiterate village woman who enters politics after her husband's assassination, starting out intent on fixing the system from within, but becoming as corrupt as those around her. To give you a sense of the kind of woman Rambhi is, there is a scene in which there is an attempt on her life - all the windows of her car are shot out and she is run off the road. When it's over, she lifts her head, peers over the seat at the destruction, and says, "Politics is a tantalizing game." The method actor in Shabana ji here is on full display, and her performance takes on a broad physicality that was less evident in some of her earlier work.

So that's why she keeps hanging up on me ...

From this piece of fluff in the Times of India:

But not everyone's so obliging. Shabana Azmi and Anupam Kher are known to answer their phones and then cut off callers if they aren't interested.

For the record, I don't have Shabana ji's mobile number and I've never tried to call her. I do have her email address though - I heard her giving it to someone else shortly after I met her. I've not used it or shared it with anyone, and I don't expect I ever will ... but it's nice to know it's there, all the same.

August 2, 2007

Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi: Introduction

In a recent post I promised you the Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi - my non-definitive, entirely subjective categorization of those films of Shabana ji's that I have seen. This post is an introduction to the Geek's Guide.

The Guide breaks Shabana ji's work into four categories. Iconic roles are those career-defining films that encapsulate the essence of Shabana ji's on-screen presence, iconic of both the woman herself and of her place in Hindi films. Cog in a brilliant machine applies to outstanding films in which Shabana ji played a secondary or ensemble role. Solid starrers are films that, even though Shabana ji's character is the focus of the story, are for whatever reason slightly less awesome than those that deserve iconic status. And, finally, there is Eh, a category for films that are just not that great (even Shabana Azmi has been in a few duds), or in which I feel that Shabana ji was wasted.

I emphasize that these categories are subjective, just the result of my own critical thinking about the film's I've seen. I offer the Geek's Guide as a starting point for discussion and exploration. I hope it will be interesting and helpful to those seeking further exposure to Shabana Azmi's career, but who might be unsure where to turn when faced with a filmography of 140 movies spanning three-and-a-half decades. I'll update the Geek's Guide from time to time as I continue watching Shabana ji's films.

August 1, 2007


It is important to judge other cultures according to their own paradigms, and not using yardsticks which are imposed by the West on the East.
--Shabana Azmi

(Source: BBC World Service interview, February 2007. Sadly, this interview no longer appears to be available from the BBC website. Shabana ji frequently expresses this idea in interviews, so variants of this comment can be heard elsewhere.)