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.


ANGELES said...

Dear Carla: I'm absolutely sure you've done better than this girl who needs to watch a lot more movies and read a lot more about Shabana.
Today is a very special day for me. I drove all the way up to Cornell from Philly to meet Shabana. I still can't believe how incredibly attentive, nice and charming she was. I just look at the pictures and can't believe it's me. As you can imagine, I was a nervous wreck - I forgot how to spell my name and she did it for me and asked for confirmation!! Lovely! I asked her about carnatic music and if she could sing something, she just started singing and I had to tell her that I would take that in my heart. Well, what can I say, she's got this overwhelming charm.I also had to tell her that there are so many things I would like to ask her that I just would sit with her in a living room and talk for ever. This morning I told her about your blog and she said she knew about it. You know I like your blog a lot. It is a wonderful source of info and feedback so I had to mention it!!
Well,there are still many things I could tell about last night, but my heart is still beating too fast.
Take care.

Anonymous said...


I read the Cornell Sun article earlier today and agree with you completely. I was quite disappointed, too.

That said, I want to thank you (as I always feel the need to do) for the great insight, intelligence, and integrity with which you write this blog/site. As you've known for some time, my appreciation of Shabana is profound and, at the same time, gushing! I love that yours is as well! But you've also created an atmosphere of respect and reflection that is not always seen on other blogs and posting sites. Wonderfully, it invites much of the same from your readers. I regret that I have not been much of a contributer to the commentary that goes on here, but I must thank you for establishing such a classy and smart foundation that the comments are of the same ilk. And so my congratulations and thanks also go out to my fellow Sounds Like Power readers and Shabana fans.

My hope is that this fall I will be able to finally meet our Great Lady in person at one event or another here in New York. I've come so close in the past but have let my shyness get in the way! I promise that if I do, I'll send a lengthy and loving comment. In the meantime, I'm here every day nonetheless and loving it!


Anonymous said...

"I hate Bollywood" from the article. Did Shabana actually say this? And yet she's had no qualms about acting in hundreds of Hindi movies? Very disappointing and not something I expected from someone who should be furthering the breaking down of stereotypes about Hindi cinema instead of furthering them. The writer of the article seems to have taken off on her own fantasies about what Hindi movies are all like, just based on that quote. Why is American media so prejudiced against Indian movies? Prejudice because hardly anyone have ever seen a few of them, let alone one. The movies make you feel good, and that's their USP, imo.

Filmi Geek said...

Maajhi: Exactly. The author has insufficient knowledge to put Shabana ji's statements in context. What Shabana ji probably said was that she hates the *term* "Bollywood" - she's said that many times. She's also said many times, and made perfectly clear, that she *adores* mainstream Hindi cinema and is extremely proud of it. Indeed, that's precisely WHY she hates the term "Bollywood".

Angeles: I am so delighted for you, and also impressed at your composure - when I met Shabana ji last year I was unable to string two words together and completely squandered my opportunity to speak with her. Thanks so much for mentioning SLP - I'm still tingling and stunned that she's really aware of it. Please tell us more about what she said during the talk - if you want to write up a little summary I would be delighted and honored to include it here as a guest post.

Susan - I don't know what to say, except thank you so much. You've stated precisely what I'm trying to do here, and I'm delighted beyond delight that it's working.

ANGELES said...

Dear Carla,

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 rethorically 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 Rhada 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.

PS: No caps today even though my feelings are in CAPS!! :)

Filmi Geek said...

Angeles, I am so surprised to say this, but your comments have brought me to happy tears - I am sitting in my office on this Friday morning weeping with joy for you! I hope you will not mind if I take the liberty of putting your account in its own post - it should be seen even by those who don't regularly read the comments.

ANGELES said...

Carla, I thank you a whole lot for your work, hard work, that allows us to share our feelings and thoughts in such a nice and cozy atmosphere. I also thank you for feeling happy for me.
I have to admit that meeting her has affected me and I also wept. I had this strange feeling, mixture of happiness and a little sadness when I was leaving Cornell in a beautiful, silent, full-moon night. It's like when somebody you love is leaving and you don't want to go to the airport to say goodbye, but you know they are still there, near... There are so many details that I have in my mind and heart and I still can't believe it's true.
So many famous people go around appearing in magazines, TV programs, etc. without any real achievement. Shabana makes her voice the voice of those who don't have one and that makes her a big person.
She has this "peace" around her, this tranquility, this way of looking at you when you are talking to her (this distinctive expression in her half closed eyes)and you can tell she is really listening! haha
Well, I surely love having the chance to tell somebody about this, since my family can't take my talking about her any more!!

Last but not least, it is an honor for me that you post my comments and who knows, one day we could get to chat with her thru SLP!
Take care.