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).


Aung Phyoe said...

I watched "Swami" about 5 years ago without english Sub! So I can just pick up the storyline! Thanks for the reviews.I am the great fan on Shabanaji since I started watched indian Films. BTY, I upload Shabanaji starred "Mandi" on youtube.Have u been watched this film? And do u like "Smita Patil" another actress talatent like Shabanaji?

Filmi Geek said...

Smita Patil was a very gifted actor and her loss was a great tragedy for Hindi film. From what I have read she worked very differently from Shabana ji; she was a natural, instinctual actor, not inclined to the intense method work and preparation that Shabana ji puts into her roles. The healthy competition between them pushed and motivated them to perform better and better, and it's amazing that there are so many films like *Nishant* and *Mandi* and *Arth* in which they appeared together - so many films that had room for two crazy talented women - you don't see that often enough in the movies.