Monthly Archives

September 2020

Mother, spouse, mother-in-law – Day 1888

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Shabana often jokes that Kalpana Lajmi’s Ek Pal is her tit for tat to Naseerudin Shah for for his misdoing in Masoom, where Shah betrays Azmi and fathers former colleague Supriya Pathak’s child/ Jugal and in Ek Pal, Shabana becomes pregnant with old pal Faroque Shaikh’s baby while being married to Naseerudin Shah.
All her films portrayed Shabana Azmi facing new challenges. In Jeena Yahan the couple is struggling to survive in a metropolis. In Yeh Kaisa Insaaf, the married daughter is responsible towards her dependent maiden family. In Kamala, as the wife of the journalist who purchases a tribal girl to validate his story, Azmi is outraged by his audacity. Her characters were capable of rage and also extreme compassion. Seema in Ek Doctor Ki Maut is offended by her husband’s persistent preoccupation but is at the same time supportive of his brilliance and selfless research for a a vaccine. She often feels sad and isolated from his world but in crisis, is his only anchor.
In contrast, Imtiaaz Begum of In Custody is selfish and ambitious. She has no qualms of reciting her poet husband’s couplets as her own and that’s because Begum is a survivor. In Custody was more about poetry and a dying culture than about marriage. There were some films, where the message was bigger than the character and in these films, the couple was usually well adjusted whether they were migrants (Naseer-Shabana) in Paar or weavers in Susman (Om Puri- Shabana) their concerns were the same.
If Fire was about choices, then Morning Raga was about melody and Neerja about the loss of a loved one. The fact is that Shabana Azmi has portrayed as many powerful roles outside marriage space as well but I’ll tell you about that in another blog, another time.


Shabana, marriage and child -day 1887

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All her films addressed either a socio/ political or family concerns and Shabana Azmi’s directors relied upon her to deliver a strong message. So, if the school teacher’s wife Sushila is a victim in Nishant, Meena Joshi in Shaque stalks her husband to unravel the truth. Saudamini is yearning for her beloved in Swami while Firdaus is forever nagging the handsome Shashi Kapoor Junoon.
She is oppressed in Swarag Narag and the most efficient daughter-in-law of a large joint family in Aapne Paraye who can face up to every challenge but crumbles every time her husband/ Amol Palekar is taunted for not contributing to the family kitty. It was a beautiful film about family politics and women power in the kitchen.
In Thodi Si Bewafayee, Shabana is unwilling to forgive her husband’s slip-up and in Arth, she refuses to take him back after his betrayal. The last scene of the film when Kulbhushan Kharbanda seeks forgiveness and desires to return home, Pooja has just one question: Had she done what he did and wanted to return, would he take her back? Kharbanda shakes his head and Shabana responds, ‘That is my answer’.
In Masoom it was not another woman but a child who threatens the happy family. The film opened to furious debates if Shabana’s character was unduly harsh towards the child but director Shekhar Kapur was convinced that Indu’s hostility is a reaction of her anger towards her husband. The opening scene of the film where the kids are pestering the mother to allow them to keep a pet at home (she is is dead against the idea but finally relents to keep the girls happy), is a motif carried forward in the climax when Shabana drops her anxieties accepts Jugal Hansraj as part of the family.
To be continued

Shabana Azmi: Changing face of Indian woman – Day 1886

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A week ago, actor-activist, ex parliamentarian Shaban Azmi turned 70 and it is a matter of pride that 46 out of the seven-glorious -decade of her life has been devoted to cinema.  Filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor once said that whenever we turn the pages of Indian cinema, Shabana Azmi will be discovered at the turning points.
Azmi reflects the changing face of the Indian woman on screen, not just the modern, working woman but also the homemaker. In the olden days, the heroine was divided between the pious Sita and the evil Shoorpanaka, Shabana Azmi blended her characters with shades of grey to portray a more realistic ardhangini to her husband who reacted according to circumstances.
Launched as a villager in Shyam Benegal’s Ankur, Shabana from the very beginning, juggled all kinds of cinema. If Ankur led to more artistic expressions like Nishant and Kanneshwar Rama, Kantilal Rathod’s Parinay paved a path for the middle of road cinema like Kadambari and more. Shashi Kapoor was Azmi’s first mainstream hero in Fakira and the success of the film led to more commercial films like Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish.
To be continued

Sepia Stories/ 34 / Feroze Khan – Last words – Day 1885

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Every time it is Feroze Khan’s birthday, I am reminded of his last interview with me, though at that time neither of us knew that it was going to be his last interview.
We had an appointment in the month of April in the year 2009 where he was looking forward to talk about his new film. But on the morning of the appointment, his manager cancelled the date, said Khan saab was under the weather. He fixed another appointment after two days and again cancelled it, said Khan saab was still not feeling up to the mark. Three days later, the manager called yet again and said, Khan saab has confirmed the appointment and promised that this time there will be no cancellation.
We met at his office in Lokhanwala Complex, a rather large and buzzing office. He welcomed me into his cabin with his famous charm and smile and we straight away got down to talking business. It was supposed to be a chat about his films but for some reason, he turned nostalgic and began telling me about his childhood, his parents, his siblings, their early struggle and his shift to Mumbai and movies. He compared his relationship with his father to his relationship with his son, said he was in awe of his Abba, while his son Fardeen looked upon him as his friend.
Khan said his siblings and he never directly communicated with their father, whatever they had to say to him was always routed through the mother but when he became a father himself, he made certain that he was accessible to all of them all the time. Khan discussed his films too but got emotional when talking about Fardeen’s debut, said he was looking forward to doing more films with his son. “I will always be watching over Fardeen as a father and when I am not there, I will be watching over him from the heaven” concluded Khan.
A few days later, Khan passed away, he was only 69. I meet Fardeen at the grand prayer meeting organized for his father. I wanted to tell him about his father’s emotional interview about him but didn’t because there were too many people around us, but someday if opportunity willing, I will.

Sepia Stories/ 33/ Happy Birthday Tanuja – day 1884

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The first time I met Tanja was at her Santacruz residence where the entire S Mukherji family lived together as a large, joint family. Tanuja and I arrived at her door together and as the maid opened the door to let us in, a little Kajol peeped from behind and leapt into Tanuja’s open arms. Tanuja carried her instantly and smothered her with kisses and in baby talk asked her, ‘Mera Kaaju kya kar rha hai?’to which Kajol picked up a jhadu and said ‘Main jhadu lagata hai’.
Till as long as I was in the living room talking to her mother, little Kajol was occupied cleaning the floor with her broom while an exasperated Tanuja exclaimed that though her daughter has a trunk full of toys she is only enamored with the jhadu.
Over the years, I would often bump into Tanuja and we always managed to strike a meaningful conversation because Tanja is incapable of polite conversations for the sake of it. She is probably among the few actresses to have enjoyed such a long innings in her career- she started as a child star/ Baby Tanuja in the 1950 Humari Beti. In 1960 she got her first adult break/ Chabili and in 1966 her first heroine role/ Baharey Phir Bhi Aayengi produced by Guru Dutt banner but due to Dutt’s untimely demise, Shaheed Latif completed the film and Dharmendra replaced Guru Dutt as the leading man.
Tanuja looked and acted differently from other heroines and that is what made her stand apart. Vijay Anand cast her as the second lead in Jewl Thief and she gave us the immortal ‘Raat akeli hai…’in Asha Bhosle’s sexy voice. Soon she was working with all the top heroes, Izzat with Dharmendra, Jeene Ki Raah with Jeetendra, Haathi mere Saathi with Rajesh Khanna and Anubhav with Sanjeev Kumar.
After Ek Baar Muskura Do, she married director Shomu Mukherji but that did not intervene her career but post babies, like all other actresses, she was cast as Bhabhi of her once co-star Amitabh Bachahan in Khuddar.

Tanuja was aware that her roles were getting smaller, less impactful so shifted focus to regional cinema (Bengali and Marathi films) for creative satisfaction. Her last film Pitruroon received rave reviews and this birthday as she turns 77 she completes seven decades in cinema which is by no means a small achievement.

Sepia Stories / Season 2/31 Remembering Ranjeeta Kaur – Day 1883

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In the late 70s when I began my career, the FTII actors were a big rage and Ranjeeta Kaur was among them. She had signed some prestigious films with top banners like HS Rawail’s #LailaMajnu pairing opposite Rishi Kapoor and was touted as among the promising stars.  I often met Ranjeeta those days because she was friends with Akbar Khan and I would often bump into them at the Sun-n-Sand Hotel. Akbar spent most of his evenings by the hotel poolside, watching sunset and eating steaks. Those days, Sun-n-Sand was a favorite haunt of the film fraternity and journalists conducted frequent interviews at the coffee shop. Almost every day a crew was either shooting or hosting a celebration at the hotel.
Ranjeetw saw a super phase in her career when her film Suraksha with Mithun Chakraborty proved a big time hit at the box-office. In the film industry nothing succeeds like success, so when Tarana, Humse Badhkar Kaun, Aadat Se Majboor, Baazi and Gunahon Ka Devta all proved big hits, the pair got coined as coined Amitabh -Rekha of small budget films.  The interesting part was that since both of them came from FTII they were close friends and as long as they worked together, there were no conflicts, no controversies. Most of her fans remember her for her Mithun Chakraborty films but my personal favorite Ranjeeta film is Rajshri Productions’ Aankhiyon Ke Jharoke Se. Everything about this film was special, the story, the music and the performances.
One fine day, sometime after Satte Pe Satta, Ranjeeta Kaur got married and settled down in Pune. She was still in Maharashtra but nobody ever saw her, spoke of her and then about two years ago, I met Ranjeeta at her ex manager Rakeshnath’s daughter’s wedding, she still looked the same, appeared awkward and shy like always. I asked her why she was not doing any more films or series and she merely smiled. I’m still figuring out what that expression meant and what is holding her back.
And by the way, happy birthday!

Sepia Stories/ Season 2/ 31 Bebo to Kareena Kapoor – Day 1882

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My first memory of Kareen Kapoor is at the shooting of Pukar in 1983 in Goa. They were shooting an action sequence between Randhir Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan and Babita was at the location with Karisma and Kareena. While Karisma was playing with Shweta, Srishti and Abhishek Bachchan, Kareena all of three years old was on her mother’s lap watching the filming. When it was time for Bachchan to bash up Kapoor, Kareena began bawling and the shooting had to come to a standstill. To pacify her, Bachchan and Kapoor embraced each other but Bebo would not stop crying so finally Babita had to take the kids and leave for the hotel.
The next time, I saw Bebo was at the funeral of Raj Kapoor. The RK Bunglow was over flowing with people and as hours went by, Babita and Neetu had to attend to domestic responsibilities, so there was Babita sitting amidst guests like us, feeding dahi chawal to a sleepy Bebo. Babita hoped Bebo would go to sleep after dinner but Bebo was strolling in the garden with other kids.
A few years later, we had a photo shoot with Karisma Kapoor and Jackie Shroff for g magazine cover and were meeting at Jackie’s home. Karisma was reaching there directly from her shooting and requested if I would bring Bebo with me to Jackie’s home in Bandra. Those days the K sisters lived in Lokhandwala, very close to my home, so Bebo just back from school, her short hair left lose, looked spectacular. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she said, ‘An actress, what else? Lolo has time till I finish schoo,l after that I will take over’.
And then came the year 2000. I spotted her as soon as I entered the Bachchan’s Diwali party. This was before the release of Refugee and I was mesmerized. In a white ghaghra and eyes filled with kohl she looked like an apsara descended on earth. Who is that beautiful girl, I asked Kirron Kher standing beside me? Kher said, ‘You mean you did not recognize, that’s Bebo who else?’.

One film led to another and decades transformed Bebo to Diva Kareena Kapoor. Today the little girl who cried on the sets of her father’s film is a mother herself and knows how to protect her little boy from the shooting chaos. Her attraction with the spotlight continues though and who knows, a decade later, son Taimur will be making his debut in movies and I will be still around, writing about the family legacy?

Letters To Mother – day 1878

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‘I am not a writer, most of us are not; but everybody seeks expression.’
– Narendra Modi
Translated from the Gujarati by
Bhawana Somaaya
‘This is not an attempt at literary writing; the passages featured in this book are reflections of my observations and sometimes unprocessed thoughts, expressed without filter…I am not a writer, most of us are not; but everybody seeks expression, and when the urge to unload becomes overpowering there is no option but to take pen and paper, not necessarily to write but to introspect and unravel what is happening within the heart and the head and why.’ – Narendra Modi
‘In my opinion Shri Narendra Modi’s strength as a writer is his emotional quotient. There is a raw intensity, a simmering restlessness which he does not disguise and that is his attraction.’ – Bhawana Somaaya, Translator
As a young man, Narendra Modi had got into the habit of writing a letter to the Mother Goddess, whom he addressed as Jagat janani, every night before going to bed. The topics were varied: there were seething sorrows, fleeting joys, lingering memories. In Modi’s writings there was the enthusiasm of a youngster and the passion to usher in change.
But every few months, Modi would tear up the pages and consign them to a bonfire. The pages of one diary, dating back to 1986, survived, however. These are now available in English for the very first time as Letters to Mother, in a powerful translation by Bhawana Somaaya.

Ayushmaan Khurana , new age common man -day 1876

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Sometimes, inexperience prevents adequate decisions that affect our destinies, in this case the fate of the film and sometimes, submission absolves all obstacles and travels us paths we had never determined as in the case of Ayushman Khurana whose birthday falls on 14 September.

His career is the stuff fairy tales are made of. A television show Roadies ventured him into anchoring and his talent as a singer landed him his debut role Vicky Donor followed by a long list of pathbreaking films that identified him as the new age common man.

Unlike Amol Palekar of the 70’s cinema who represented innocent middle-class aspirations, Ayushman’s common man was complicated, complex and often irreverent. He embraced his characters’ insecurities and celebrated their vulnerability, as a result he suffered low self-esteem in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, was under confident in Bareily Ki Barfi, impotent and therefore frustrated in Shubh Mangal Savdhan, confused and self-centered in Badhai Ho, fuelling sexual fantasies in Dream Girl, isolated in Bala and aggressive in Gulabo Sitabo.

His portrayals liberated the middle class restless for a new identity. Was Ayushman conscious of his impact on his audience? I don’t think so, because by the time the image of an actor becomes a reality, he is usually half way through success. That’s what happened with Ayushman as well because had he thought through his creative choices, he would have been terrified. He was able to travel this far because he went with the flow.
Bhawana Somaaya

Theory of instinct – day 1875

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The director was so impressed that he confirmed Raakhee for the role on the spot. Shashi Kapoor was roped in for a guest appearance as Raakhee and his resemblance with his nephew was a requirement of the story.

Doosra Aadmi addressed multiple social and psychological issues like marriage, adultery, working woman, single woman, single man, professional etiquette, mental health issues like neglect, depression and loneliness.

The film received rave reviews but did not fare well at the box-office, partly because the subject was volatile and partly, because Raakhe (matriarch of Tapasya) was unacceptable as a home breaker by her fans. And which brings me back to Raj Kapoor’s theory of instinct and I wonder if the fate of Doosra Aadmi would have been different had Ramesh Talwar signed Sharmila Tagore in the role of an eccentric copywriter?

The answer is probably yes and probably no but the response would have been certainly different had Ramesh Talwar had heeded to his producer’s advice and changed the climax, he didn’t.
To be continued