November 1, 2007

November poll: alternate universe

I've had a stay of execution, as it were.

The reason I've been so overwhelmed with work the last couple of weeks is that I was preparing for a trial that was scheduled for the end of the month.

The trial has been postponed to the spring, which means I can breathe a little easier, and it also means: you get a November poll!

Last month's poll was a warm-up. This month things get really weird. I invite you to step into an alternate universe, and ask yourself the question: What role do you wish you could have seen Shabana Azmi play? Maybe it's something that was offered to her, but didn't work out. Maybe it's something someone else did that you think she could have done better. Or maybe it's just something that would put her skills to use in an altogether different way.

I offer a few choices here - neutrally, with no judgment intended against those who performed these roles originally - and invite you to vote in the sidebar at the right. If none of these choices strikes your fancy, then step through the looking glass and offer up your own "what if?" scenarios.

Seema Biswas's role in Water. Shabana ji was originally slated to play the role of Shakuntala in the third installment of Deepa Mehta's trilogy; she was shaven and ready to go when the Varanasi sets were attacked and destroyed on the eve of the first day of shooting, and when the production was finally resurrected some five years later in Sri Lanka, Seema Biswas took over, for a variety of reasons. Seema Biswas is an outstanding actor and she did a fine, fine job, but I couldn't help pining for the casting as originally envisioned.

Jaya Bachchan's role in Hazaar chaurasii ki maa. Not really a stretch here; it's easy enough to imagine Shabana ji taking the reins in this art-house film about a woman digging into the dark side of a political movement in order to understand why her son was murdered. That is not to say that Jaya ji did not do a fantastic job, and it was a terrific movie as it was.

Meryl Streep's role in The Devil Wears Prada. Just ruminate on it for a minute. I haven't seen Loins of Punjab Presents, but my gut tells me that Shabana ji can do evil bitch very convincingly. And really, is there anyone in Hollywood this side of Meryl Streep who even comes close?

A "mother role" in a Karan Johar flick. On Koffee with Karan Shabana ji said she's turned down "big bucks" (her words, not mine) for simpering doormat mother roles. But something tells me that in her hands, these roles might be transformed. What do you think?

Seema Biswas's role in Bandit Queen. Not to pick on Seema Biswas here by listing her twice; I don't begrudge her any of her roles, especially this one, in which she turned in a chilling and outstanding performance. I wonder how Shabana ji would have handled the crazed, damaged, and terrifying Phoolan Devi in this harrowing film.

Sigourney Weaver's role in the Alien films. Shabana as Ripley - so good it almost hurts to imagine it. Someone once sent me a screencap of Shabana ji wielding some kind of strange weapon (or perhaps it was a firehose) in Mardon wali baat, and that image is what I have in mind when I think of Shabana ji stepping into Sigourney Weaver's space suit for this role.

Patti LuPone's role in Evita (on stage; Madonna's role in the movie).
- Seriously, hear me out. Eva Peron is like Rambhi from Godmother, writ on a national instead of a local canvas. Can't you just see Shabana ji on the balcony of the Casa Rosada with the updo and the pearls? It's a delicious thought. She might not quite have Patti LuPone's singing chops, but then - neither does Madonna.

Hema Malini's roles in Seeta aur Geeta. Because I just really want to know if she could pull off this kind of pure comedy.

I'll leave it there for now - I'm sure I could think of more - but I really look forward to all your thoughts. Oh: my vote goes to Ripley - I just cannot resist Shabana Azmi kicking ass and taking names - but it was a tough choice.


Anonymous said...

Having grown up in Argentina, I very well know what Evita meant for the country. As in Godmother, Shabana would have done a great job. I like her kicking ass more like that than fighting some creature. However, I have to admit that seeing her with a weapon is sexy (Godmother).
I love Shabana in sweeter roles (Radha, for example) so I think that her performance in Water would have been really powerful.
No bandit queen for my Indian Queen. That movie made my stomach sick, wouldn't like to see her there. On the other hand, I wonder if she would do the nude scene... I don't think she would say "If I were Poolan Devi..."
Comedy? Yeah,baby!!

Anonymous said...

Of the films you've listed, I would vote for Water. It was a shame that Shabana wasn't able to play the role as originally planned, although Seema was one of the highlights of the film.

As for other films, I would compare Shabana to Meryl Streep and/or Catherine Deneuve, both great dramatic actresses. Any of their roles, from the Deerhunter to Sophie's Choice, to Indochine, Ma Season Preferee, or Est Ouest, would also be done well by Shabana. The most important thing is a good script, which unfortunately can sometimes be hard to find in Indian cinema.

Anonymous said...

Interesting poll, Carla. If only viewers had as much input into the remakes of classics that seem to be in fashion!

I chose Devil Wears Prada not only because I think Shabana will do evil with relish, but it would also give her a rare chance at comedy. I would rate the Bandit Queen role a close second. It was a complex character that I think would have posed a different kind of challenge for Shabana. The ones that are simply meh are the mom roles in Karan Johar type films. Such unidimensional roles are simply not interesting at this stage in Shabana's career. But the one that least interests me is the Water one. I'm not a fan of Deepa Mehta's work --- I liked Earth which I felt was the best of the trilogy primarily because Bapsi Sidwa's book made for a good screenplay. I didn't like Fire which most Shabana fans adore. I actually prefer Mrityudand for a more honest if somewhat 'masala' treatment of the subject. I'm probably way off topic already so I'll save more detailed criticism of Fire for perhaps a more appropriate thread :)

Filmi Geek said...

Thanks for the votes and comments, folks; I was starting to fear that this poll was dead in the water.

Maru: *Fire* is very close to my heart for more reasons than I can enumerate here. But as much it resonates for me, I also know it has its flaws and problems. And, personal matters and what my friend Stuart calls "Azmolatry" aside, I agree with you that *Earth* is the strongest film in the trilogy.

*Mrityudand*, as it happens, was only the second Shabana film I ever saw - after *Fire* - and it remains a steadfast favorite to this day. Terrific film!

Anonymous: Shabana in a *Sophie's Choice* kind of role would be just heartbreaking - not that the original is anything less than utterly heartbreaking!

Anonymous said...

Hi Carla, this poll is very interesting. I think that we have all thought about "how Shabana would do in this or that role" when we talk about her movies. I wanted to ask you why you think that "Earth" is "the strongest film in the trilogy". I know that when your heart decides, "Fire" comes first but something else tells you "Earth" is better, in which way?
Thank you for the polls and all the work you always put in SLP!!
Take care.

Filmi Geek said...

Angeles, there are a lot of factors - it's hard to summarize without sounding flip. Objectively I just think *Earth* is a better and more polished movie than *Fire*. The descent of Aamir Khan's character is one of the most chilling things I have ever seen in any movie - showing so vividly how desperate circumstances can turn a good man into a monster.

Unknown said...

I did not realise that Shabana was originally set to be in Water. Of course I would vote for her to take that role. The film as is could really have done with the strength that Shabana would have brought to it. Of course, it would have been better still if Nandita (who'd also shaved her head for the role) had retained the part that went to Lisa Ray - Fire reborn as Water, what could have been more apt? Thanks too for the kind words about Earth.

Anonymous said...

shabana cab do much better than seema in water.
but other films that were given in your list don'y siut for her. especialy the classic alien series and bandit queen
however in kabhi khushi,khabi ghum much imporatnce is not given to the mother role.(one of the worst films i have ever seen in my life)the best film of shabana according to me is FIRE