October 30, 2007

Dubai interview

This week Shabana Azmi is in Dubai. My internet stalking automated Google searches turned up a couple of interesting items about her trip.

This report from albawaba.com explains that Shabana ji is a brand ambassador for an Indian health and fitness company called VLCC that is opening a facility in Dubai. I didn't know about this particular endorsement relationship, but at the moment (and perhaps for the best) I don't have time to editorialize or rationalize or philosophize about it. Read the article - it includes Shabana ji's thoughts about representing the company - and let us know what you think.

Second, a Dubai news outlet, Khaleej Times, has a terrific interview that I very much enjoyed reading. In addition to lots of good sound bites that will undoubtedly find their way into future quick posts on bon mots days, Khaleej Times has given us the very sexy snapshot reproduced above. (Thanks also to Sally for the e-mail heads-up about this interview.)

October 28, 2007

Another TV talent contest

First she filled in for Javed sahib when he was a judge on Indian Idol. Then she made a guest appearance on Star Voice of India. Now, Shabana Azmi is apparently serving as judge on yet another talent show, the peculiarly spelled Jjhoom India. The Times of India has a brief interview with her about it.

I can't say I am very excited about projects like this. I don't care for TV talent contests at all and I can't sit through them just because Shabana ji might look nice or turn a clever phrase or two. I love her with all my heart, but I guess not without limit.

Happily for me, the Times of India interview hints at some more promising news: "I am doing two new movies," Shabana ji says, "but I won’t be able to talk about them."

When she does, you'll certainly hear about it here. Perhaps one of them is Sadiyaan - we'll find out in time.

October 26, 2007

"Tota-maina ki kahani," Fakira (1976)

I am in my office doing some research, and I have some music playing quietly in the background. This song came on, and it made me think - it's Friday, I haven't done a Shabana-gaana in a while, and it will only take a couple of minutes to find the song on YouTube and post it. So here you go: "Tota-maina ki kahanai," from Fakira, in which an almost impossibly young Shabana Azmi romps in a meadow with a plaid-jacketed, airplane-collared Shashi Kapoor and declares: "Main Fakire ki rani ho gayi" - I have become Fakira's queen.

I love Shabana ji's mainstream juvenilia. I love the trademark hairstyle she wore through the 70s, with those short bits curling down the sides. I love her bashful non-smile, betraying self-consciousness about her teeth. I love her youthfulness, lean and strong but awkward, and really not much of a dancer. I just love the roughness of the whole package, and the air that Post-Punk Cinema Club interprets as "What the hell am I doing in this film?" There may be no film that embodies this spirit better than Fakira. Of course I know what the hell she's doing in this film - if you're 25, and trying to establish yourself as an actor, do you turn down the chance to star opposite one of the biggest heroes of the era, and your girlhood crush to boot? But that doesn't make it any less endearing to watch this somewhat nervous and slightly unsteady proto-Shabana, still figuring out who she is and where she's headed.

October 25, 2007

Dus kahaniyaan stills

Thanks to dormeg at the BollyWHAT forum, and via Radio Sargam, a couple of stills from the upcoming Dus kahaniyaan:

I love Shabana ji's look in this, plain yet dignified with the spectacles and so on. I'm a little afraid from the one preview I saw of what else we'll have to sit through in order to enjoy Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana ji's ten minutes of the film - but I suspect that some of the ten stories will be good, others not so much.

October 24, 2007

Sadiyaan is real - but not a done deal

Here via IndiaFM is some more news about Sadiyaan, the rumored film starring Shabana Azmi and Rekha that I first heard of a couple of weeks ago.

According to the article, the project is not finalized - director Raj Kanwar would like to cast Shabana ji and Rekha in his film but has not yet done so. Rekha, it seems, is enthusiastic about the project and hoping to work with Shabana ji.

Subhash K. Jha, the article's author, loves his dish, and he doesn't pass up the opportunity to dredge up snark, quoting Javed Akhtar sahib as saying that Rekha's performances don't touch his heart. He also questions Shabana ji's relationship with Rekha, insisting that they don't care for one another much. But just a couple of weeks ago another article asserted conspiratorially that "not many people know that Shabana Azmi is a very close friend of Rekha."

close friends?

I'm not a huge fan of Rekha's ephemeral will-o-the-wisp persona, but given a suitably earthy role she can be powerful and great fun, as in Krrish or Lajja. I'm finding myself hoping that Sadiyaan happens with Rekha and Shabana ji.

October 23, 2007

2002 Interview - from AsiaSource

I'm sorry to be so buried with work that I can't give you something new to look at or think about every day.

As a quickie, here is a 2002 interview from AsiaSource which some of you have certainly seen before. It was the first interview of Shabana Azmi I ever read, and it very much made me sit up and take notice: this is a person I want to pay attention to. It covers much of the usual ground - the commitment to social change that permeated the household of Kaifi Azmi, the turning point of Arth, the promise of the independent voice of women in government, and so on - but as always it's a good read. One thing that comes through, I think, and that I particularly love about Shabana ji, is her optimism. She is a serious and committed person but she is never a downer - she always speaks with hope for a better future, whether it's the future of Indian cinema or the future of India.

October 22, 2007

October poll - results

The results of the October poll are in - and it's a tie! Your favorite Shabana Azmi movies are Mandi and Masoom; each of these received 12 votes. Following in second place is Fire, with eight votes - there had been a three-way tie for a while earlier in the month, before Mandi and Masoom pulled ahead. Arth and Ankur gave a respectable showing, coming in at four and three votes, respectively. Honorable mention to 15 Park Avenue, Parvarish, and Sparsh, which picked up a vote each.

The results of this poll are interesting. I expected Fire to put up a solid showing. SLP has plenty of readers in North America and I suspect that many of these, like me, were first introduced to Shabana ji in Fire. I am also not surprised by the strong showing for Masoom. When I first wrote about this movie on Filmi Geek, I was pleased to learn that it is a popular favorite among desis. People my age fondly remember it from their childhood, and others love it just as strongly; my review of Masoom has received more comments than any other review I've written. So it stands to reason that it would come out on top in a poll like this one.

I am especially intrigued, though, by the strong showing for Mandi. I haven't yet seen this film, and I didn't know it would fare as well as it has in this poll. I'm now looking forward to seeing it - even more than before.

The relatively poor performance of Shabana ji's classic, iconic films like Arth and Ankur is, I think, an artifact of restricting the poll to a single film per voter. I suspect that at least one of these films would make most people's top three.

Of course this is all somewhat artificial, as it's not always meaningful to choose a single "favorite" film. The criteria are vague - is the best film? The one I enjoy the most? The most meaningful? The one closest to my heart? - and the answer can change with shifting moods. Still, it was a fun poll, and I thank you all for voting. I have a much more interesting question in mind for the next poll, so you can look for that in the beginning of November - work permitting.

October 19, 2007


Angeles sent this nifty picture:

Actually Angeles sent me some other very lovely pictures a couple of weeks ago that I'll use as an illustration for some post or other one of these days. I don't know where she finds them! But I'm not complaining.

October 15, 2007

SLP metapost

I wish it weren't so, but there other forces in my life apart from Shabana Azmi. The next few weeks are likely to be extremely nutso for me. I will try to keep up with the news here, but the features, screencaps, and philosophical musings may have to take a back seat for a while. Also please don't take it personally if I don't get around to answering emails right away.

In the meantime, I've extended the October Poll by another week. I was planning to wrap it up today and post on the results, but I think it's still collecting votes so I decided to wait a little longer. Please vote (in the sidebar at right) if you have not already.

Also, in the last couple of weeks I've rearranged the archives a little bit which should make looking for previous posts a little more fun. The "news" category still exists, but there are now also separate categories for "activism" and "upcoming films," so that news pertaining to each of these aspects of Shabana Azmi's work is separately identified. Of course the decade categories are always there for posts about past films.

I've also created a category called "navel-gazing" for those days when I seem to wax philosophical. My husband wondered whose navel I'm gazing at. He thought by "navel-gazing" I might have meant this:

So just to be completely unambiguous, let me state quite clearly for the record that I meant was this.

Finally, I'd like to put out a call to all of you to submit guest posts - that might help keep things lively around here when I'm too busy to write new stuff. If you have a review, some comments on Shabana ji's performance in a movie, or anything else you think might be of interest to SLP readers, send it along.

The next post will be SLP's 100th. Thanks to all of you for making this so much fun!

October 14, 2007

Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi, part 4 - Eh...

This is the fourth and final segment of the Geek's Guide to Shabana Azmi. To learn more about the Geek's Guide, please visit the Introduction, as well as Part 1 - Iconic roles, Part 2 - Cog in a brilliant machine, and Part 3 - Solid starrers.

I either don't like these films, or I feel that Shabana ji was wasted in them - or both.

Avtaar (1983). I think one of those films whose approach is lost in translation to me, as someone who is not Indian, because it was a commercial success. I also understand it was the inspiration for the recent film Baghban. To me, its handling of an important theme - that young people should respect their elders - fell somewhere between peculiar and disturbing. There was nothing wrong with Shabana ji's performance in it - well, except the excruciating "Din mahino saal" - but the role could have been adequately filled by any of her contemporaries. As for "Din mahino saal," I can only conclude that Shabana ji was made to look ungraceful on purpose.

Pestonjee (1988). Not a bad film - actually quite a good film, and an essential for fans of Naseeruddin Shah or Anupam Kher, both of whom are outstanding. Kirron Kher has a fantastic vampish turn as well. But I just don't like the way Shabana ji was used. The role, in my opinion, didn't play to her strengths at all.

Ek doctor ki maut (1991). I feel bad putting Ek doctor ki maut in this category; it's not that bad, and Shabana ji is quite good in it. But it doesn't really fit into any of the other categories either. It ends up here, I think, because I'd rewatch any of the films in the other three categories before rewatching this one - but it arguably does not deserve such a lowly fate.

Morning Raga (2004).
Ugh. The trouble with Morning Raga is that it's just not a very good movie. Shabana ji played her part very well, but that wasn't enough to save the amateurish feel of the whole project. A weak script, weak directing, weak music, and most of all weak acting - it's Shabana ji giving a master class to a bunch of kids who can't act. I do think it's a good thing that Shabana ji gets involved in projects like this, where she lends her skill and cachet to a new or unknown filmmaker whose talent she believes in. Unfortunately, the result isn't always a great film.

Umrao Jaan (2006). Shabana yes, rest of the film not so much. I can't say it better than the lady herself: "I loved the clothes I wore in the film and my scenes were delicious. I liked myself." If it hadn't been for the sentimental appeal of reprising her mother's role from the 1981 Muzaffar Ali classic, I wonder whether Shabana ji would have come within 100 yards of this project. Still, at least it gives us pictures like this one:

October 12, 2007

Eid mubarak!

Wishing a joyful and peaceful Eid ul-Fitr to Shabana ji, her family, and any and all SLP readers who observe the holiday. May you all be blessed with health, happiness, and prosperity!

October 11, 2007

Hint of a new project?

I just came across this in a Times of India article about Rekha (whose 53rd birthday was yesterday):

[Rekha] is starring in Hema Malini’s production with Esha Deol, [and] another with Shabana Azmi titled Sadiyaan.
My perfunctory Google searches turned up only that same article. IMDB doesn't yet show anything on Shabana ji's plate after Loins of Punjab Presents, and for Rekha only a recently announced Krrish sequel - but when it comes to Indian films IMDB is sometimes the last to know. Has anyone heard anything more about this?

Shabana and Rekha have appeared in a couple of movies together before, like Ek hi raasta, with Jeetendra, which I haven't seen:

I'm not crazy about Rekha, but I hope Times of India is right about Sadiyaan, because a film that has roles for these two women might be really interesting. "Sadiyaan," by the way, means "centuries," which also sounds interesting. As always, I will keep you posted if I learn more.

October 10, 2007

Witchy woman

I recently had the pleasure to watch Vishal Bharadwaj's outstanding 2002 film Makdee. You can read my review of it at Filmi Geek.

Shabana Azmi plays a nasty witch who lurks in a spooky castle on the outskirts of a village. Even the sensible adults of the village are sufficiently frightened by her that they stop short at the gates of her sprawling property, hesistant even to set foot on her grounds. Word has it that anyone who darkens her doorstep will be turned into an animal. And when she turns a little girl named Munni into a chicken, Munni's feisty, mischievous twin sister Chunni enters a bargain with the witch to try to save her. Chunni must screw up her courage and face the scary witch on her own.

Shabana ji's writhing, snarling, scene-chewing performance in this film is an utter delight. Here's what I said about it on Filmi Geek:

She plays the witch with absolute relish, throwing herself into it with a broad physicality that is utterly delightful. From her creepy gyrations as she performs the magic to turn children into animals, to the growly snarl with which she delivers every line, to her punching-and-kicking fight scene at the film's climax, she transforms into the villain, completely. There is no dignity in this performance - just out-and-out entertainment.
What I mean by no dignity is that she holds nothing back, neither in portraying the most repulsive and terrifying aspects of the witch, nor in taking the witch's comeuppance. As she terrorizes Chunni she smacks her lips, rolls her eyes, and sucks down a bowl full of blood. In the film's climax, she punches, kicks, and falls ass over tea-kettle into a muddy pit. This performance makes her work in Umrao Jaan seem restrained by comparison. It's just magnificent.

For much of the film, Shabana ji is under heavy makeup; creepy and ugly, she is at times almost unrecognizable.

Everyone once in a while though, she'll put on a certain expression, and suddenly it's quite clearly Shabana ji, there under all that makeup:

Toward the end of the film, the witchy makeup comes off, but the manic insanity remains in her eyes and the snarl on her lips:

And, when she's close to defeat, a look of pure fear:

Despite her unusual look, the witch's voice is always unmistakably Shabana ji's, though she delivers her lines in a lower register than usual and adds a creepy complement of guttural growls to every line.

I didn't have any expectations for Makdee, but I absolutely loved it - it's a terrific piece of children's filmmaking, gripping, scary, creepy, gross, fun, thrilling, and engaging from beginning to end. All that and Shabana ji too, in a role that may be completely unlike any other on her lengthy resume. A total treat! I can't recommend it highly enough.

So pretty!

October 8, 2007

More on M.F. Hussain

My automated searches for news of Shabana Azmi turned up another article about the event celebrating M.F. Hussain that I mentioned a couple of days ago. There are two fun things about this article - one is the cute picture reproduced above, which I which was just a little better quality. The other fun thing is the publication in which the article appears: People's Democracy, the "weekly organ of the Communist Party in India (Marxist)". I don't know much about this organization, but I can't help thinking that Shabana ji's father would be tickled.

Words to live by

There are certain virtues in laziness. Because when you are not doing anything you are thinking, and when you are thinking you are growing.
-- Javed Akhtar

This observation comes from Anuradha Sen Gupta's terrific interview with Javed sahib on CNN/IBN. His charming voice comes through very clearly. You can read a transcript beginning here, but it's worth having a look at the video beginning here as well - there are a few errors in the transcript, such as in the line I quoted above, and the video adds a couple of fun old photographs.

October 5, 2007

"Raja ki kahani," Godmother (1999)

There's really nothing I can say in introduction to this week's Shabana-gaana. If you've seen Godmother, you already know how awesome this is. If you haven't seen Godmother, you will probably want to after you watch this video.

October 4, 2007

Where she was

Here's why Shabana Azmi couldn't make it to the Loins of Punjab Presents screening at SAIFF last night:

  • On Tuesday she was in Delhi for a rally in support of artist M.F. Hussain (creator of the film Gaja Gamini, among other things). M.F. Hussain's paintings of nudes using Hindu imagery have drawn a lot of controversy, and he now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London, fearing prosecution - or worse - should he return to India.
  • On Wednesday, also in Delhi, Shabana ji attended an award ceremony for the Sarojini Naidu prizes for reporting on women in local government. She had served on the jury and also presented some of the awards. Click the link to read about the honorees.
I didn't make it to SAIFF either, having rearranged my priorities when it became clear that Shabana ji was not going to be there. I think I did the right thing. But if any of you were there, let us know what you thought of the movie.

October 3, 2007

So who makes her top 25?

After yesterday's rumination on what makes Shabana ji sexy, it seems time to turn the tables.

What I find sexy is when a man is wearing a sherwani and he speaks beautiful English, and when he is wearing a three-piece suit and speaks beautiful Urdu. That I find very sexy.
-- Shabana Azmi

Source: Koffee with Karan, season 1. When pressed, Shabana ji went on to say that although he has been known to do all of those things, she does not consider Javed Akhtar the sexiest man in India. "Of course not," she said. "Nobody would believe me if I said that."

I don't know; I think I would believe her. He's a very good-looking guy.

And do you really think Shabana Azmi would lose her head over just anyone?

What I like about Shabana ji's comment above is the syncretic aspect of it - not a thoroughly traditional man, not an overly westernized one, but a man who takes the best aspects of both, makes them excellent, and makes them his own.

October 2, 2007

Sexier than Mallika Sherawat!

In a 2005 piece, DesiClub named the top 25 female Bollywood sex symbols - and our lady rang in at number 12: a little sexier than Mallika Sherawat, but not quite as sexy as Sharmila Tagore.

Okay, I'm being a little flip, but I think that comes from my surprise - and my delight - at seeing Shabana Azmi cracking this kind of list at all.

It's not that I don't think she's sexy - oh my paws and whiskers, is she ever sexy - it's just that Shabana's kind of sexy isn't the kind that I'd expect to land her on lists alongside the likes of Mallika Sherawat, Kareena Kapoor, and Priyanka Chopra. And it's not that the list skews toward actors of today - Shabana ji's contemporaries (and occasional partners-in-crime) Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi top the list at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

The DesiClub article itself hits close to the reason we don't usually see Shabana ji on lists of "sex symbols." The article says that what "Shabana is sexy because she exudes class, charm and strength, which makes her captivating to watch."

Class, charm, and most of all - strength.

These attributes are a substantial part of what drives me to write this blog, and I would bet rupees to rasmalai that they are a substantial part of what draws you here to read it.

Yet when people think of sex symbols today, they think of Mallika Sherawat. They think of big boobs, flat stomachs, and lots and lots of skin. Class? strength? Which of today's female actors even has these qualities, much less is considered ragingly sexy because of them?

This blog is not called "Sounds Like Power" for nothing. There's a reason Shabana ji said that about herself, and there's a reason I liked the sound of it enough to build a blog around it. Shabana ji is formidable, and formidable is sexy. And though I personally don't think she's just "number 12" sexy, that's a quibble, a question of degree - I'm delighted she made the list at all. I'm delighted that there are still people out there who can look at a powerful woman and see sexy.

I wanted to illustrate, or at least supplement, this post with some screen captures from some of what I think are Shabana ji's sexiest scenes - pounding spices in Ankur, seducing Sanjeev Kumar in Shatranj ke khilari, snuggling Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh, the hopscotch scene in Fire (oh, dear lord, the hopscotch scene in Fire) - but I am a little busy these days, and that combined with my ongoing computer troubles made collecting new screen captures out of the question. It will have to keep for another day. Which scenes do you think belong in that collection?

This picture is at least six kinds of sexy. The crappy scan really doesn't do it justice.

As a final note, I haven't tried here to editorialize on the rest of DesiClub's list, but here are a few quick comments. I can't really quibble with the placement of Zeenat in the top slot, and I'm happy to see my pet crushasaurus Sharmila faring quite well, along with the very worthy Dimple Kapadia, Helen, Madhuri Dixit, and Hema Malini all coming in so high on the list. 25 is a large enough number that no one essential should really be missed - but for heaven's sake where is Madhubala? If it were my list she'd be in the top five, perhaps even top three. Some of the women on the list don't do anything for me at all - Aishwarya, Bipasha, Mallika, Priyanka, Rekha -but I understand their inclusion. And that's enough editorializing for today. Oh, and thanks to Beth for bringing the article to my attention. I guess there's one about the men too, but - who cares? ;-)

October 1, 2007

October poll: you can only pick one; life isn't fair

Polls seem to be the in thing these days, so I've put one over in the sidebar. And since today is the first of the month, if it's a success I'll contemplate making it a regular, monthly feature. The not-terribly-creative question of the day is: what is your favorite of Shabana Azmi's films?

I know, dreadful question. I'll try to come up with better ones in the future - so if you want to see better questions, cast a vote in this pedestrian poll and I'll consider myself motivated to veer away from the obvious, next time.

I couldn't list all 140 of them so I've selected a number that I think, based on several factors, are most likely to gather votes - films that are my favorites, films that I've heard other people describe as their favorites. Still, if I've left your favorite off, please use the comments to tell me where I went wrong.

Here's the list for the poll:

15 Park Avenue
Amar Akbar Anthony
Morning Raga

And now I could claim executive privilege and wimp out of answering the question myself, but I won't. Although it's not the best film on the list, my sentimental choice is Fire. In addition to being a lovely movie (though I think I've seen it too many times at this point), it was my first introduction to Shabana ji, and it is the sine qua non of SLP, of Filmi Geek, and of my interest in Hindi movies generally.

Honorable mention to Ankur, Arth, and Godmother - one each for the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I'm not sure how I'd choose among those if you made me pick my favorite of Shabana ji's Hindi films.

Now, please, register your vote in the sidebar (right below the recent comments feed) and let me know your thought process, in the comments.

I know, I know - an uncreative answer to an uncreative question.