January 31, 2008

Gratuitous screencaps: Mandi (1983)

Let there be screencaps!

I published my comments on Mandi yesterday at Filmi Geek, and here as promised is a rich selection of screencaps therefrom. Shabana Azmi was delectable in this excellent film, and it's the kind of performance that yields wonderful screencaps - a wide range of emotions, expressed vividly and broadly. So there we have Shabana ji








and just looking pretty:


January 29, 2008

Well, I guess I asked for it.

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I didn't come across much criticism of Shabana Azmi. I should have kept my mouth shut.

I have had to close the comments on the Filmi Geek review of Fire.

The person who drove the flame war over there may not believe me, but my problem with his/her posts is not the underlying substance of the views they express; rather it's how s/he chose to express them, with name-calling, vitriol, and disrespect. That person fancies India to be a largely monolithic country where the vast, vast majority not only agrees with him/her, but would support forcibly expelling everyone who doesn't - starting with Shabana.

I know I am an outsider and that it's presumptuous of me to take up the banner of someone who takes controversial positions that I only begin to understand. I am not prepared to provide a forum for political debate with any of my blogs, but I have to recognize that Shabana Azmi is a political person and one cannot talk about her without talking about politics. That is why I do not censor political discussions, why I don't delete comments and why I allowed the debate on the Fire post to go on as long as it did.

Having said that, I have to demand a certain level of civility and respect for differing viewpoints. The person who ignited the comment war did not evince that (though the regular commenter who engaged him/her largely did, and for that I am thankful), and so I had to shut the discussion down.

The point of this post is not so much to call attention to that debate (though it will certainly have that effect), but to urge all of you to feel free to express whatever opinions you have, as long as you do so in a way that is respectful of everyone involved. I don't want either Filmi Geek or SLP to be a wasteland of vapid praise or boring sycophantism - I encourage substantive disagreement - but I can't let them be breeding grounds for angry invective.

January 27, 2008

New banners

I've added a couple of new banners into the rotation - reload the page a few times and perhaps one of them will pop up. The new pictures include this beauty:

(Thanks for Beth for adding the text.) That's a screencap from Mandi, which I finally saw this weekend. Mandi, you might recall, surprised me by winning SLP's October poll, and I felt very chastised for not having seen it yet. So there's the banner, as a teaser for more about Mandi - a review at Filmi Geek and screencaps here - in the coming days.

January 25, 2008

Farhan Akhtar's promotional event

I had in my automated news searches a few reports about a promotional event for watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne, a company with which Farhan Akhtar is affiliated; his whole family came out to stump for him. (The Times of India article linked above includes Kaifi Azmi in the list of family members who made it to the event; somehow I don't think Kaifi sahib was really up to it.) I didn't think the stories themselves were interesting enough to warrant mention here but dormeg found a picture that caught my attention for a couple of reasons.

Javed sahib, Shabana ji, and Farhan Akhtar you will of course recognize. On the left is Tanvi Azmi, Shabana ji's sister in law (Baba Azmi's wife), who is a noted television (and to a lesser extent film) actor. I very rarely seem to see news from that quarter of Shabana ji's family so it's interesting to me to see her turning up here, and she's lovely. (I don't know who the gentleman on the right is; presumably some A. Lange & Söhne executive.)

The other thing that caught my attention about this picture is that Shabana ji is wearing the very same sari that was ripped to shreds (figuratively) by the fashionistas I mentioned in this post. So even if Shabana ji (or her staff) does monitor critiques published on the internet - hardly likely - she is showing the courage of her fashion convictions when it comes to this sari. For the record: it's not my favorite; I've seen her in much better. She still looks great though! Farhan and his dad look very fine as well.

"Din mahine saal," Avtaar (1983)

Today's Shabana-gaana is not pretty.

When I saw Avtaar, I hadn't yet seen many of Shabana Azmi's mainstream films - I hadn't seen Fakira, or Parvarish, and the idea of Shabana ji prancing around trees in full-on masala mode just blew my tiny little mind to the point where I didn't really appreciate just how horrible the picturization of this song is.

Today, with some perspective, I can only conclude that she was made to look ungraceful on purpose. Shabana ji was not a great dancer in her mainstream heroine days - but she really wasn't this bad. Look for the moment at about 1:35 where she tumbles ass-over-teakettle off the berm - as I said, not pretty.

It gets a little better after that - Shabana ji looks much better in the blue sari she wears in the second segment of the song than in the hideously unflattering dress of the first segment - but it's still not good. After a few more snuggly scenes, a sinister character with a pistol shows up to interrupt the amorous frolickling - that's Shabana ji's character's father, who doesn't like the thought of his daughter canoodling with the mechanic.

I didn't much like Avtaar at the time I saw it, and having recently confessed my true feelings about Rajesh Khanna, it's only getting worse in my memory with time and distance. And the twinge of embarrassment I feel watching this song is not doing it any favors, either. I'm sharing the song with you because for me part of loving Shabana ji is exploring her weaknesses as well as her strengths, taking a little time for the places she went wrong even while reveling in all of the many things she does right. Watching her founder in a stinker like "Din mahino saal" makes gems like "Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho" and "Do naina aur ek kahani" that much more lovely.

January 23, 2008

Shabana the pin-up girl

In Sai Paranjpe's wonderful movie Chashme buddoor (really, I can't recommend it highly enough - totally delightful) there are three students who live together in a tiny Delhi apartment. Each decorates his own wall with the images that appeal to him. Ravi Baswani's character is obsessed with the movies, and so he of course decorates his wall with pictures of film-stars clipped from magazines. And look who gets pride of place over his dresser:

Yep, it's Shabana Azmi, looking ever so glam and pouty. Here's a closer and brightened look:

This film came out in 1981, when Shabana ji was perhaps nearing her peak of glamorous starriness, before she threw herself into political activism (though already, of course, known for her arty, realist sensibility as an actor). She also had worked with Sai Paranjpe before (on the sweet film Sparsh) and was a good friend of Farouq Sheikh, who starred in Chashme buddoor. So it's perhaps not a surprise that she'd feature prominently here on Ravi Baswani's wall of film stars. But still - Shabana the pin-up girl - it's quite a different image from the one I am accustomed to. I would love to hear from people who remember Shabana ji's public image from those days; I'm obsessively curious about it.

(Thanks to Beth for the caps.)

January 22, 2008

Stumping at the Marathon

In another appearance over the weekend, Shabana Azmi was seen waving a banner at the Mumbai Marathon. India Times reports that she traded her usual fab style for something a bit more sporting:

Wearing a red cap and a yellow shirt with 'Harmony' engraved on it, Shabana was at her sporting best. "Don't you think 'my look' is cute", joked the actor as we spotted her flagging off the 'Senior Citizens' run for Tina Ambani.
Well I couldn't leave SLP's faithful without a picture of that, so I hunted around a bit and found this video at Bollywood Hungama (formerly IndiaFM) (here's an alternate link). I think Shabana ji looks pretty cute. Anyway, she was there in support of Rahul Bose's foundation for tsunami-affected children, called The Foundation.

Raising awareness of women's issues

Shabana Azmi appeared yesterday at an event in Mumbai with her mother, along with other filmi mother-daughter pairs like Hema Malini and Esha Deol (Sharmila Tagore was there too but Soha Ali Khan couldn't make it), raising awareness of a variety of women's issues. The Times of India reports that Shabana ji "spoke about the need to spread awareness about women not being the determinant of a child’s sex."

Those of you who saw Shyam Benegal's film Hari-bhari might remember that this was an issue for Shabana ji's character in that film. Her doctor explained to her that her failure to conceive a son was due to her husband's contribution and suggested that he be tested. This notion enraged her husband and he threw her out of his house. It is still the case that many people are unaware of this scientific fact, and in communities in which sons are treasured and daughters deplored, women can find themselves ostracized and abused on the assumption that the failure to produce sons lies with them alone.

There are two problematic lines of thinking here: first, the premise that girl children are not to be valued as highly as boys, and second, even if sons are desired, that women should be castigated for bearing only daughters when the biological fact is that the male contribution determines the child's sex. Changing both of these attitudes is high on Shabana ji's list of causes near to her heart.

ETA: dormeg at the BollyWHAT? forums found this picture from the event at bollyworld.com - Esha, Shabana, Shaukat, and Hema:

January 21, 2008


January 18, 2008

AIDS JaaGo available at Jaman.com

Just a quick note to let you all know that all four AIDS JaaGo films are available from Jaman.com, the fun movie website that I worked for last year. The films are watchable on-line - no download required - and are subtitled.

January 17, 2008

Not a nice post

I am always on the lookout for criticism of Shabana Azmi because, quite honestly, it's a pretty rare thing for me to find. The filmi press handles her reverentially and never dares utter a word against her, conferring a kind of immunity to which it seems even Amitabh Bachchan is not uniformly entitled. I would think that in political commentary it is easier to find the occasional barb, but if they're out there they don't, for whatever reason, turn up in my daily Google searches.

Thankfully there's always the world of fashion, whose cattiness sheaths its claws for no-one. Have a look at this post at Saree Dreams, which not only decries Shabana ji's sartorial choice as "fugly" (I agree it's not her best), but also accuses that Shabana ji's famously arch expression is enhanced by botox, and suggests that Rekha has aged more gracefully.


Now this is all a matter of opinion and I respect it, but I certainly can't agree. I have no idea whether Shabana ji has tried botox - my own guess is absolutely not but that's all it is, a guess - but how anyone who saw Om Shanti Om can favorably compare that frightening painted wraith to the splendor of milady is a vast mystery to me. I've never really been on board the Rekha train - as a young woman she was too creepy and ephemeral to ever strike me as beautiful - and today I'd advise her to put down the make-up trowel and pick up a sandwich.

As my father would say, that's why there's horse races - we all don't pick the same winner. But cattiness breeds more cattiness - if it weren't for Saree Dreams's ugly comments, I wouldn't have been inspired this morning to add my own ugliness to the blogosphere. Perhaps if I am in a foul mood in the future, the subject matter of this post will find its way into a bitchy poll or two. For now, though, I'll look for something cheerful and upbeat to cleanse SLP's conscience - this is a terrible way to celebrate Javed sahib's birthday.

January 16, 2008

On reconciling actor and activist

My work as an actor or as an activist or as a Parliamentarian are not separate boxes. They are part of who I am; all aspects of my identity are there.
-- Shabana Azmi

(Source: the Lehren video linked in this post.)

In a discussion on another post, commenter Maru raised a thought-provoking question: What to do when admiration for Shabana Azmi the actor conflicts with one's views about Shabana ji's offscreen endeavors?

Perhaps more than any other actor, Shabana Azmi's activism is an integral part of who she is, as she notes in the quotation at the top of this post. For me, this is a large part of what makes her so remarkable - she is not merely an effective performer, someone I enjoy watching on screen. There are lots of stars who can captivate me temporarily in a movie, but I've only founded a blog in praise of one of them. Her presence in the movies is what caught my attention; her commitment to social change is much of what continues to hold it.

Shabana ji's dedication is not enough, though; if she were devoted to causes that I felt were wrong-headed I obviously would not admire her as I do. So it's essential, for me, that I happen to agree with her ideals, at least in an abstracted, theoretical way (as I discussed at length in these comments, I am not really equipped to evaluate her specific implementation-level ideas).

But what if you, like Maru, don't share Shabana ji's ideals, and believe that the changes she works so hard to effect will not be beneficial to Indian society?

Maybe with other actors, one can put aside their off-screen foibles and just enjoy watching them do their thing in the movies. Maybe you think Salman Khan is a cutie but can't bear to think about him shooting deer or running over pedestrians in his SUV. Maybe you're riveted by Amitabh Bachchan but wish he didn't have that creepy Amar Singh by his side all the time. Maybe Kajol is enchants you in the movies but strikes you as vapid and bitchy in real life.

These things might be easier to sweep aside than a fundamental disagreement with Shabana ji's politics. Most actors don't project the kind of personal link between their on-screen work and their off-screen activities that Shabana Azmi does. With Shabana ji, it's harder to separate the one from the other. She doesn't, as she notes in the interview linked above: "My work as a Parliamentarian ... is a continuity of my work as an activist which is a continuity of my work as an actor."

This is because the roles that Shabana ji takes, and the roles she is most revered for, are both an expression of her social and political views and a vehicle that she uses to advance them. Any reader of this blog will have seen the statement dozens of times: "Art is an instrument for social change."

I don't think this means that one cannot enjoy Shabana ji's work in the movies without signing on to her ideals, but I do have some sympathy for why that might be a difficult line to navigate. Some stars may cultivate a separation between their off-screen lives and their movie personae; Shabana Azmi does the opposite; the role she plays as a political activist is as important, and as public, as any role she plays in a movie. It is difficult to separate the two, and I think Shabana ji wants it to be that way. She wants her movies to make people think. And I don't know for sure, but I'd like to think that she'd be content so long as watching her movies makes someone think - even if that person conscientiously reaches a conclusion that is at odds with Shabana ji's own favored viewpoint.

January 15, 2008

Javed Akhtar on Hindi films

Dreams don’t offer realism . . . but they are relevant nonetheless as they are often a reflection of our thoughts. In a way, cinema is like a relevant dream as well . . . on decoding it one can unearth the collective psyche of the society.
-- Javed Akhtar

Source: An agencyFAQs report on a talk Javed sahib gave in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago. In addition to the lovely analogy reproduced above, he also made some very interesting and provocative - arguably more provocative than strictly accurate - comments on the history of Hindi films, and in particular of the portrayal of Muslims in Hindi films.

Here's another excerpt:
Further, he insightfully declared that for several years after partition, no film with a Muslim protagonist was made. Finally, in 1960, ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’ came along which broke this trend, followed by ‘Mere Mehboob’, both of which has Muslim characters as heroes. “These films, to my mind, were dangerous, because they created ‘Super Muslims’ or unreal Muslims,” Akhtar stated. For instance, such films showed Muslims to be understandably pathans or nawabs living in large ‘havelis’, who talked only in poetic lingo, wore sherwanis all day long, indulged in Mujras/brothels, and sported beautiful women at their arms. “This created a world that never existed!” exclaimed Akhtar.

So then, one saw the era of two categories of Muslims. “The first was who we saw on cinema. The second was my neighbour – an owner of a cycle shop,” smiled Akhtar. This real life Muslim then started believing that his ancestors may have really led the kind of life shown on screen. “As one can see, both these Muslims were far away from reality,” Akhtar said.
It's a nice tight theory, except that there were plenty of films about Muslim characters in the 1950s, as Javed sahib is surely well aware. It would be interesting to ask him how to account for those, or distinguish them as exceptions to his main point. Still, it's an interesting read.

January 11, 2008

"Pal bhar mein ye kya ho gaya," Swami (1977)

Today's Shabana-gaana is a cute bit of sweetness from Swami - "Pal bhar mein ye kya ho gaya." In this song a besotted Shabana has fallen in love with the guy-next-door - who actually does love her for her mind, believe it or not - and she finds herself here distracted by daydreams, unable to concentrate on hanging on the washing, making garlands, or even whatever Proust or Milton she is trying to read.

I like this song because it highlights some of the cuter aspects of this character that are on display in the first 45 minutes of this film, before it all goes wrong for the poor girl. She's a little bold, a little awkward, smart, curious, girlish, and sweet. She doesn't look half bad, either. In fact the entire film is a parade of one simple but beautiful sari after another. I had wanted to do a screencap post of "The saris of Swami" but I never finished preparing it; I got tired out at around the twelfth.

January 10, 2008

A "Positive" story and some news

In New Post India, Farhan Akhtar talks about directing his stepmother Shabana Azmi in the short film Positive, part of Mira Nair's AIDS JaaGo project discussed here. He said that despite their personal relationship, he knew she wouldn't compromise her standards to do him any favors: "I knew if I went to her with something she didn't approve of, she'd tell me to buzz off, regardless of our relationship. I didn't want her to be in that position where she might have to say no."

In other news, a British showbiz outlet called The First Post reports that Mahesh Bhatt has chosen Shabana ji to play the lead in his Benazir Bhutto bio-pic. I'm a little surprised to see this news coming out of Britian before India, so I'll remain skeptical until I see quotes from Shabana ji confirming it. The First Post also has Hollywood throwing a hat into the Bhutto bio-pic ring, in a project to be directed by Robert Redford.

January 8, 2008

January Poll: Which decade makes you say "guh"?

For January - I promised as vapid and superficial poll as one can imagine, and I think I'd be hard-pressed to come up with one as content-free as this. So here it is:

In which decade is Shabana Azmi at her loveliest? I'm talking about looks here, and looks alone. That's it, bas. Is it:

The elven 1970s?

The glamorous 1980s?

The introspective 1990s?

The arch 2000s?

And I know it's tough to choose - my own vote, for the 1990s, does not mean I think she's less than stunning now or that I wouldn't be content with only earlier images if I had no other choice. But Shabana ji's 1990s looks have something extra, something special and close to my heart - the blush of new love, I suspect, since the first films of hers that I saw were from that era. What about you? We've got a whole year ahead of us to discuss politics, acting, activism, and films. For this month, let's just focus on the frivolous.

"Move yer bloomin' arse!"

Times of India has what strikes me as a very peculiar little story about Shabana ji's day at the races.

(The post title, in case you don't recognize it, is what Eliza Doolittle said when she briefly let her decorum down at the racetrack in My Fair Lady.)

January 3, 2008

December poll roundup

The December poll question, you may recall, was: which Khanum Jaan did you like better, Shabana ji's or her mother's?

Not surprisingly - this is not, after all, a blog devoted to Shaukat Kaifi - Shabana ji took the honors. But Shaukat amma put up a decent showing - she collected five votes, against her daughter's nine.

January poll coming soon. I promise, it will be vapid and utterly superficial.

More on the Bhutto bio-pic?

Well, not really more on it. The same story I cited a couple of days ago is still making the rounds on the wires and the blogosphere.

Reader Melinda pointed out in a comment that Mahesh Bhatt has signed on to a Bhutto bio-pic - here's a story on that from the Hindustan Times. That story says Bhatt's film is a Pakistani production, and though casting hasn't yet been announced, I wouldn't be surprised if one of Pakistan's excellent older actors takes on the role instead of Shabana ji. UPDATE: Mahesh Bhatt offers the clarification that his production company is talking to people in Pakistan about the film, but that it's only an agreement "in principle" to proceed, and it's too soon after Ms. Bhutto's death to really start developing the project.

My own guess is that there will likely be more than one Bhutto bio-pic project announced in the coming year - maybe Bhatt's and Tariq Ali's and maybe one or two more. Perhaps only one will make it through to release, or perhaps more than one. At any rate, it seems all but certain that Shabana ji will get involved in one of them. She's interested in playing the role, and the casting is just too good to resist.