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Shabana Azmi turns 56 today

 
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By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, September 18, 2006
Shabana AzmiShe's on a new high each year, each day.....Looking 40 rather than 56 Shabana glows from an inner strength and joy. "It comes from feeling good about yourself, living and eating healthily and being surrounded by positive people," she whispers.

Shabana's gregariousness is legendary. " I pride myself for the ability to reach out and connect for a very selfish reason . I need to observe and absorb from those I work with. Acting is such a collaborative art. If you can connect with those around you, your job gets so much easier. All you have to do is look in their eyes and know the truth. There're some actors who thrive on playing a power game on the sets. I can't bear any tension on the sets. I 've to have a comfortable atmosphere. Predictably the young people like Urmila Matondkar and Arjun Rampal in Tehzeeb and Perizaad and Prakash in Morning Raga come to the sets with pre-conceived notions about me being a serious actor. Then they suddenly discover this very open and accessible person."

She explains her longevity in cinema with the 'sponge' theory. "I love to observe and absorb. Cinema is such a collaborative medium. You've to get along with everyone. For my best creative juices to flow everybody has to have a high level of commitment. You know we actors work under the most traumatic circumstances. We've to leave a film and come back to it exactly the same place two weeks or two months later. It isn't easy."

She has lately completed two more international projects, and is hopeful about Bollywood making the crucial crossover in a not too distant future. "We must clearly understand that our crossover films have to come from independent filmmakers, as happened in the case of Iranian and Chinese cinema. They cannot come from mainstream cinema. To think that you can bring one Anglo-Saxon girl into an Indian film and make the crossover is silly. I define crossover films as those works that hold their own in the West. We'd be little crazy think that our mainstream films can be accepted by non-NRI filmmakers. Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding worked within the non-NRI audience. That's space we can clearly start negotiating. I liked what Mahesh Bhatt said on this issue. "Why are we obsessed with crossover films? Why can't we talk about crossover audiences?" Really , much as I hate the term, so much hype is being created abroad about 'Bollywood'. We need to build on that."

Shabana feels Bollywood has the ability to make a much larger international impact. "I think India is a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously. We've people living from the 18 th to the 21st century. And all the Indian people encapsulate the contradiction that arises from this long stretch of time zone. The West wants to see India as an exotic land of drought and spiritualism. That cliche has to be wrung by its neck and thrown out. The West better realize that India lives in contemporary times as well as several centuries simultaneously. These contradictions make our society what it is. And cinema which reflects this reality should be pushed out West. I'm averse to the idea that foreigners should judge our films according to their own paradigm. I think in a fast-shrinking global village we've to try to understand individual cultures within their given contexts and not judge developing nations by standards set by the West. With globalization the West is open to our films. How we cease that opportunity is entirely up to us. I find the idea of the Indian government taking mainstream films to Cannes very strange. You say , remove the songs cut the length...in short change our entire paradigm. Our government should support independent cinema-films that are trying to say something new should definitely be present in international pockets where they can be noticed. This isn't happening."

But as usual, she's upbeat. "I feel the opportunities for actors are opening up . Hindi film producers have realized there's no such thing as a pan-Indian audience. Because of this they've got out of the mindset of making films that cater to the lowest common denominator . They can now make niche films ...for multiplexes or for the interiors. So we've got out of the formula. The profile of the audience has changed completely. There's a strong urban audience. Attempts are being made to make different kinds of films, though not all of them are successful. I was once talking to Rishi Kapoor and he felt this is just about the best time for a Hindi film actor. I agree . In another 2-3 years the picture will get clearer. But there's one trend that both pleases and bothers me. Producers like Yash Chopra , Karan Johar and Subhash Ghai are allowing directors from the outside to make films for their company. Unfortunately they're encouraging these directors to make films that clone their own style. What these bigwigs should do is encourage small-budget films which are meaningful and contrary to the films made by Chopra, Johar and Ghai. That's how the meaningful movement will flourish. Small films made for large production houses can be nurtured into a proper release. My plea to big production houses , give 2 crores to a small film. That's often the budget of one Karan Johar set.

Not too many people know Dev Benegal has made a documentary on Shabana. "Yes not too many people have seen it. It was made for the New York film festival. Not bad, huh? But it's documentary in process. We need to build on it. I need to grow more."

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