July 30, 2007

Gratuitous screencaps: Sparsh (1980)

Focusing on the superficial for a moment: What era is Shabana ji's loveliest? My own view is that her appearance has changed so much over the years that it is difficult to compare across the decades. In the 1970s she could be stunning, but could also be a little elfen and awkward; she had not yet grown into her looks, but the potential was there, etched in her high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. Today, she is about as gorgeous as a woman can be, strong and poised and real and intense; one's attention is still drawn to those fabulous eyes that archly regard the world. I am personally most drawn to Shabana ji's looks in the 1990s, when that strength came into fullness as her face matured. But if your wish is to see Shabana ji in the avatar of a glamorous movie star, then it is in the 1980s that you must look. By the early 1980s she had grown into her looks; she had lost the adolescent pointiness of her youth, but her face had not yet developed the lines or the complexity that later is so appealing.

With that absurdly self-indulgent treatise out of my system, I turn to the nascence of that movie-star glamorous version of Shabana Azmi, the young widow Kavita of Sparsh (1980). Though plainly dressed and simply made up, Kavita is nonetheless gorgeous; she knows she is considered beautiful, and says so without arrogance.

July 27, 2007

"Do naina ek kahani," Masoom (1983)

Today's Shabana-gaana is a lullaby from Shekhar Kapur's beautiful, heartbreaking film Masoom. In the song, "Do naina ek kahani," Shabana Azmi's character Indu puts her two little girls to bed (the elder is Urmila Matondkar) while the sad little boy (Jugal Hansraj) who is staying with them against Indu's will (as he is her husband's illicit son) looks on amidst lonely reminiscence of his own deceased mother. The song is pretty and the picturization gives a good feel for the heartrending tone of the movie. Click here to watch the song.

I offer my own meager and fairly literal translation here as well:

Do Naina Aur Ek kahani

Do nainaa, ek kahaanee
Two eyes, a story
thodaa saa baadal
a few clouds
thodaa saa paanee
a little bit of rain
aur ek kahaanee
and a story

chhotee see do jeelon mein
wo bahatee rahatee hai
The story flows out in just short phrases
koee sune yaa naa sune
kahatee rahatee hai
It will keep being told
Whether heard or unheard
kuchh likh ke aur kuchh zubaanee
something written, and something spoken

thodaa saa baadal
a few clouds
thodaa saa paanee
a little bit of rain
aur ek kahaanee
and a story
Do nainaa, ek kahaanee
Two eyes, a story

thodee si hai jaanee huyee
It’s a little bit familiar
thodee see nayee
A little bit new
jahaa ruke aansoo
wahee pooree ho gayee
The story is complete
when your tears stop

hai to nayee fir bhee hai puraanee
It’s new, and yet also old

thodaa saa baadal
a few clouds
thodaa saa paanee
a little bit of rain
aur ek kahaanee
and a story
Do nainaa, ek kahaanee
Two eyes, a story

ek khatm ho to
doosaree yaad aa jaatee hai
When it ends,
it calls to mind another story
hothhon pe phir bhoolee huyee
baat aa jaatee hai
A forgotten tale that comes to the tip of your tongue
do nainon kee hain ye kahaanee
This story of two eyes

(Thanks to cheesetikka at the BollyWHAT? forums for guidance with the translation)

July 26, 2007

Javed Akhtar sahib

I said I would talk a little about Shabana Azmi's husband, Javed Akhtar. Many of you reading this know who he is; for those who may not, here is a little background.

Javed Akhtar is an absolute rock star. The influence he has exerted on Hindi cinema - and, by extension, on a substantial portion of Indian popular culture - cannot be overstated, I think. He came to prominence in the 1970s, with Salim Khan, as part of the scriptwriting team Salim-Javed. Together they wrote the films that defined Amitabh Bachchan's "angry young man" persona, and many other influential and popular films to boot. If you are a fan of Hindi films of the 70s, chances are they wrote some of your favorites - Zanjeer, Deewaar, Seeta aur Geeta, Don, and Sholay, just to name a few.

In the early 80s the Salim-Javed partnership ended, and at the same time Javed sahib shifted his focus from screenwriting to songwriting. He still wrote screenplays from time to time, but it is as a lyricist that he has made most of his contributions over the past 20 years or so. If you are a fan of modern filmi music, chances are he wrote some of your favorite songs - lyrics for 1942: A love story, Lagaan, Dil chahta hai, Veer-Zaara, and last year's Umrao Jaan, just to name a tiny fraction.

Javed sahib is also an outspoken supporter of secularism and other progressive ideals. One of the ways in which he supports his ideals is as spokesman for the organization Muslims for Secular Democracy. (When I heard Javed sahib and Shabana ji speak last year, Javed sahib made a lot of comments that illuminated his strong views and ideals. You can read my detailed notes on those comments here, on my general-purpose blog Geek of All Trades.)

Javed Akhtar is also father to Farhan Akhtar, who made Dil chahta hai and Don: The Chase Begins Again, among others; and to Zoya Akhtar, who co-produced Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. with her brother.

As an friend of mine once said, what do they put in the water in that household?

Here's a nice interview with Javed sahib published earlier this week in the Hindustan Times. The best part is where I learn that at the moment I have something in common with Javed sahib and Shabana ji - a disruptive home remodeling project:

What have you been so busy with lately?
I've been shooting one day a week for Indian Idol. I've also been constantly travelling in and out of the city. I'm doing up our house with Shabana. It's taking up a lot of our time. Right now, it's in a mess.
My home too, Javed sahib - mine too.

July 25, 2007

Keeping at it

When you are working for change, if you can build into your expectations the possibility that change will not happen in your lifetime, and still you continue that work, then there will be no room for frustration.
-- Shabana Azmi

(Source: Dev Benegal's documentary Shabana; actually, my handwritten notes from an aborted screening of it that I attended last year, so the quotation may not be completely correct.)

Looking sharp

The imaganatively named Bollywood Blog, a gossip website, has pictures of Shabana Azmi at the event the Times of India mentioned the other day, the launch of the new album of ghazal singer Sharda.

Looking fabulous, as always. Love the gold and cross-weave in the sari pallu, especially the way it looks against the red. Here are the rest of the pictures.

July 23, 2007

"What's your secret, Shabana?"

This byline-less short piece in the Times of India is one of the funniest items I've seen in a while:

REALLY, what is with Shabana Azmi and her incessant socialising these past few weeks? The actor-cum-socialist has been spotted at practically every event about town, be it a book reading, a music function, a play or a dinner. And while we're not complaining, we would really like to know the secret behind her energy!

July 22, 2007

Sounds Like Power guestbook

I probably should have done this weeks ago, but when I first started this blog - actually today is the first monthiversary - I didn't know how long it would last, or if anyone would care. But now I can see from my logs that one or two dozen people are stopping by each day, and apart from the handful of you I know about, the rest of you disappear without a trace.

I'd love to know who you are. So, if you feel like it, drop a comment - tell me where you are, what brought you here, your favorite of Shabana Azmi's films, whatever you like. I'm curious to know who is out there on the other side of the computer screen.

Oh, and just to avoid having a post without any Shabana Azmi related content at all, here is a smoldering gratuitous screencap from Ek din achanak. Very pretty!

July 21, 2007

News miscellany

Here are a handful of tidbits from the news - what Shabana Azmi is up to these days:
  • Shabana Azmi was one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the campaign the resulted in the Taj Mahal being named a new wonder of the world. According to the Times of India, though, her work stumping for the Taj has only just begun. She wants to see more attention directed both to preserve the Taj Mahal and to make it more readily accessible to visitors. For Shabana ji, the Taj Mahal is a powerful symbol of Indian national pride. "We need to be made aware that the monument won't endure our complacency forever," she said. "And, yes, I intend to recreate a consciousness about its value to us."
  • Also, IndiaPRwire reports that Deutschbank is offering a 40 lakh prize to recognize creative solutions to urban infrastructure problems, and Shabana ji will serve on the jury, along with an international collection of architects, urban planners, and others. It is undoubtedly Shabana ji's work with Nivara Haq, her organization that has built thousands of homes for displaced slum-dwellers, that earned her a spot on this committee.
  • Finally, there is this very sweet video in which Shabana ji and her husband Javed Akhtar talk about their contributions to some paintings for a charity auction. Incidentally, I admire Javed sahib very much, and I consider that admiration to fall within the scope of this blog - so look for more about him in the future.

July 20, 2007

Actor, activist ... playback singer?

Instead of posting a song video for this week's Shabana-gaana I want to talk a little about Shabana Azmi's own singing.

Shabana ji is by all accounts a naturally gifted singer and I wonder what might have happened if she had put her mind to that instead of to acting. She famously studied Carnatic singing for her role in Morning Raga, in order to make sure she looked the part. And while a crash course in Carnatic singing does not a Carnatic singer make, I've read that Shabana ji can hold her own in that arena. While she did not sing playback on that film's soundtrack, she did perform the songs live at the film's premiere (or some such event) to enthusiastic response.

So where can a hungry fan hear Shabana Azmi sing? There are a few recordings out there but I haven't had much luck in tracking some of them down. She sang her own playback for the 1986 film Muzaffar Ali film Anjuman. I've never seen any sign that this film is available on DVD, nor had I been able to find any of its songs - until recently, when I discovered that one of them, "Gulab jism ka yunhi" is now available at the iTunes music store. Best 99 cents I ever spent! Shabana ji sounds so sweet - it's just wonderful. She sounds like a regular person with a pretty voice - not at all like a professional playback singer. It's really quite lovely, and well worth checking out. (IMDB also credits Shabana ji as playback singer on her 1984 National Award winning performance in Paar, another film that I'm dying to see and that I've not been able to get my hands on.)

More recently, Shabana ji can be heard singing a short, sweet tune in a peaceful moment in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. And, I am quite certain that she sang the song that plays over the opening credits in Shyam Benegal's Hari-bhari - though she is not credited as a playback singer, I am nearly positive that it is her voice - listen for yourself.

July 19, 2007

An intimate interview

Thanks so much to SLP reader fadista da mouraria who sent me a rich collection of interviews and articles about Shabana Azmi. Some of them I have seen before, but others are new to me, and they will provide material here for weeks to come.

Today I begin with a set of reminscences so intimate that it made my eyes moist. In this 2004 interview, Shabana ji ventures into some intensely personal topics. The interview begins with some anecdotes from childhood that I've heard before, but then turns to subjects that had for me previously only been matters of speculation. I feel grateful to Shabana ji for offering this window into aspects of her life that are none of my business and yet irresistably fascinating to me.

There's some fun stuff in there too. This made me smile and smile:

I had a crush on Shashi Kapoor: Shashi and Jennifer were family friends. Prithviraj Kapoor lived next door to my parents' house and, every Sunday, when Shashi visited his father, I would buy a Re-1 photo of Shashi and get him to sign it. When I was selected to act with him in Fakira, I panicked — he was my big hero!

Well, one could do worse than have a crush on the beautiful Shashi Kapoor. I wrote here about Fakira just the other day. In it Shabana ji's character Neeta or Geeta (depending upon when you ask her) is a police inspector who plans to catch the vigilante bandit Fakira, played by Shashi, by going undercover and pretending to fall in love with him; it turns out she can't control her emotions as well as she hoped. It must have been a fun and overwhelming role for Shabana ji to play, at just 24 or 25 years old, a romantic lead opposite her childhood hero.

Read the rest of the interview here.

July 18, 2007

Sounds Like Power metapost

Well, it's been almost four weeks since the launch of Sounds Like Power, and so far it's been great fun for me - I hope for you too.

You may have noticed the random banners at the top of the page - hit reload a couple of times if you haven't. I like this silly feature - it's a way of keeping some of my favorite images of Shabana ji up front and frequently seen. Thanks to Beth for pointing me in the direction of the code I needed to hack to make this work, and also for making some of the banners!

You'll also have noticed a few of the regular features, like Shabana-gaana and the gratuitous screencaps. Substantive commentary on Shabana Azmi's films can be found at Filmi Geek or via the links in the sidebar, but I'll try to augment those here from time to time with comments that are specific to Shabana ji's work in a particular film, rather than to the film generally.

Coming soon, I'll start posting the updated version of the Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi, which made its debut as a posting on the BollyWHAT? forum but actually was conceived in response to a comment Daddy's Girl made on one of my posts at Filmi Geek. The Geek's Guide is neither definitive nor authoritative; it's just my breakdown Shabana ji's films (well, the 25 or so that I've seen at this writing) into several categories that I hope can help guide the selections of those who wish to dive deeper into her career.

In addition to those regular features, I'll keep posting news and biographical tidbits as they crop up and strike my fancy. Please let me know if there is anything you would like to see - and please, if you come across an interesting news story or interview pass it along - please don't assume I've seen it. I look forward to your feedback and comments. As far as I know, Sounds Like Power is the only active blog or fan site on the internet devoted to Shabana Azmi, and so I feel that I am not only indulging my own fan-girlish impulses, but also filling a web-wide need.

July 16, 2007

Indian Idol epilogue - Javed sahib satisfied

This little piece is kind of sweet. It claims that Javed Akhtar wasn't entirely confident in his wife's ability to take his place on Indian Idol. Javed sahib now knows that he needn't have doubted her. "I guess there're some people who get it right, no matter what they do. Shabana is one of them," he said. "Now I'm apprehensive they might ask her to take my place on Indian Idol."

I hope not ... then I'd have to force myself to watch more of the show.

Hat tip to Darshana for the link.

July 14, 2007

Ek bahut hi special guest

Here is a link to a post on India-forum that itself contains links to all 13 segments on Friday night's installment of Indian Idol 3, on which Shabana Azmi was a guest judge. (There is a password provided in the India-forum post, down after the thirteenth link.)

I haven't watched beyond the first segment yet - I am not a big fan of these performance shows - but as I said in my previous post on the subject, Shabana ji looks fabulous and her appearance was met with enthusiastic reviews.

So watch the videos, and let me know what you think.

July 13, 2007

"Main tujhe bita ke", Fakira (1976)

In part because of the trajectory of Shabana Azmi's career, and in part because of what's available on YouTube, my Shabana-gaana offerings are generally focused upon Shabana ji's earliest work. No matter, since the 1970s are full of adorable exemplars of proto-Shabana in her masala heroine avatar.

The 1976 masala potboiler Fakira is a rich source - the songs are cute and romantic, with lots of rolling in the grass and dancing around trees, and between the elfen young Shabana and the gorgeous Shashi Kapoor there is plenty of pretty to go around. Today you can watch "Main tujh ko bita ke," a tender song with a picturization that is humorous and even downright naughty for its time. Though the picturization doesn't shy away from the details of the couple's romp, the clip doesn't show you what the film does the next morning - the bed broken in two as a result of the evening's frolic!

Enjoy the song, and watch out for something that looks an awful lot like a real kiss ...

July 12, 2007

A glimpse of Indian Idol

Following up on my previous post, it appears that Shabana ji's guest appearance on Indian Idol 3 is in Javed sahib's place, rather than by his side. Below is a picture from the set, sent to me by a friend (click for a full size picture). I'll update again if I figure out a way to watch the show.

ETA: Rave reviews. And another picture (with Anu Malik):

Looking fabulous, of course. And another rave review.

Shabana ji to accompany Javed sahib on Indian Idol

For the past couple of months Shabana ji's husband, the writer Javed Akhtar, has been serving as a judge on the television series Indian Idol 3. I have not been following the show - as much as I would love to practice my Hindi-Urdu comprehension by listening to Javed sahib speak all day long, I have to place some limits on the amount of time I spend on things filmi, and a performance contest like II3, even with Javed sahib's formidable presence, just doesn't have enough to hook me.

Toss Shabana ji into the mix, though, and you bet I'll be watching.

I learned yesterday that this week Shabana ji will sit alongside her husband as a guest judge. The show is airing tonight, tomorrow, and the next day in India and on certain satellite channels. I don't have direct access to it myself, but the show's official website seems pretty generous with posting clips, and there may be other on-line sources as well. When I find the best ways to watch the episode, I'll be back to let you know.

July 8, 2007

Gratuitous screencap: La Nuit Bengali (1988)

A friend gave me this screencap from La Nuit Bengali - I haven't seen the film, and don't plan to see it soon, but oh my stars and garters Shabana ji looks super lovely.

July 6, 2007

Inauspicious debut

From a wonderful interview published in Little India magazine earlier this year, Shabana Azmi's first performance as an actor:

Well actually my acting career started and didn't quite take off at the age of three. I was enacting the nursery rhyme "Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle/ the cow went over the Moon." I was playing the cow. Alas. instead of going over the moon I fell on the moon, who was another three-year-old girl. She got up and gave me a tight slap. I slapped her in return and the curtains had to be brought down hastily!
Read the rest of the interview here.

"Sajnaji vaari vaari", Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (2007)

After Shabana-gaana posts from the 70s and 80s, I wanted to show you something much more recent - "Sajnaji vaari vaari" from Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. The clips of this song that are available on YouTube are really poor quality. I'm posting this link, but it really doesn't do this adorable song any justice.

(ETA: The clip I linked has been removed from YouTube, as sometimes happens. I found another one - even worse quality - but no guarantees it will be up for long. Sorry! )

Click here to watch.

I'm running out of decent YouTube clips and I'm only up to the third installment of shabana-gaana. I may have to take matters into my own hands ...

July 3, 2007

Charlie Rose interviews Shabana Azmi, March 2006

A reader in Portugal sent me a link to Shabana ji's appearance on the Charlie Rose show last year. This 22-minute interview is highly recommended viewing; it's a nice introduction both to Shabana the actor and Shabana the activist. I hope it will make plain at least some of the reasons that this blog exists.

Watch it here.

Some highlights:

  • The discussion of Arth and Paar, while stock stuff of Shabana interviews, is always fun to hear.
  • The description of the "commune" apartment in which Shabana ji's girlhood was spent. I heard a little about this in Kaifi aur main but my Urdu wasn't up to snuff and I didn't understand much of it.
  • Shabana ji's comments about the Imam of Jama Masjid - especially that parachuting him into a war zone "would solve his problems as well as our own."
Please watch, and let me know what you think.

July 2, 2007

Some fluff in The Hindu: hero worship meets reality

The Hindu has a piece about some of the less award-worthy stuff Shabana ji has been up to lately. Some of these endeavors are the ones I try to ignore, as they don't fit the idealized, pedestal-mounted facsimile of my idol that dwells in my mind. I certainly was bitten by hubris when Shabana ji appeared at a promotional news conference for Jet Airways alongside Shah Rukh Khan ... not weeks after I had grumpily criticized Shah Rukh Khan for doing so many commercial endorsements.

But the truth is - a truth I am sometimes bidden to acknowledge - that whatever else she may be, Shabana ji is also a movie star, and there's a lot of that territory that strikes me somewhere between irrelevant and distasteful. Today The Hindu reminds me of some of these things. No matter - there's still plenty to admire (including the very nice picture, reproduced here, that accompanied the article), and I'll post some more about that later today.

And at least Shabana ji is honest and expressive about her motivations:

In the recent past, her first surprise appearance was for a TV commercial, before she zapped everyone with a ramp walk for friend and designer Anuradha Vakil. The detergent ad where she appeals to the nation to save two buckets of water every day by using a washing powder came as a surprise — suddenly there she was on TV, wearing a kadak istri sari, pallu tucked in the waist, flower in her hair and holding a plastic bucket of water. "I did it because they gave me good money, but the advertisement also spoke about water conservation. Water is something I'm concerned about, and the ad helped create an awareness."
Read the rest of the article here. And I'll add that my discomfort with the more mercenary side of Shabana ji's dance card says more about me than it does about her.