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.

1 comment:

fadista da mouraria said...

Thank you, Angeles and Carla, for making it possible for me to share in this wonderful experience. I was enchanted by your account, Angeles, and as soon as I managed to overcome envy, I became really happy for you. I'm reading V.S. Naipul's India (A Million Mutinies Now) and on page 90 of my QPD edition, Naipul interviews a Bengali writer in a rundown flat in Bombay who reminisces about his precarious career and how he once wrote a script "for a friend who wanted to make a quick, cheap film, and that there was a well-known acrtress who was a friend of the group. We thought we could cash in on her name. .... It was the story of a husband's adulterous affair ... In our film, when the adulterous man came back crying to his wife, she sent him away."
I wonder how often she remains unnamed in acts of generosity and kindness. It's so good to find out a little more about her, as in your account, Angeles. I think she is one of the best actors I've seen, but I also believe her to be a truly kind person, even if she comes across to some people as arrogant (not to me!).
I'm so glad that through Carla's blog we can now keep close tags on her public appearances. I can keep an eye open here in the Iberian peninsula if ever I should be so lucky and she came over.