The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
ĎRace is not an issue todayí

Q: Youíre as usual brimming over with joie de vivre.

Iíve come back from Singapore and am on top of the world. Iíve lost weight. I cut my hair for the play. I think it rather becomes me'. This play that I did ' Harold Pinterís Betrayal ' is by the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

For the Theatre, I had earlier done Nora which was Ingmar Bergmanís version of Ibsenís Dollís House. My interest in the Singapore Repertory'is to do with their Ďcolour-blindí casting. By this definition the best parts neednít automatically go to White Caucasians. Indians and Black Americans are also eligible.

Q: You had the main role'

Pinterís Betrayal is such a clever piece of writing. Javed simply adores it. When they offered me the play I wasnít aware of its content. But Javed was. Although my name is Emma and I dress in Western clothes, the accent is clearly Indian and some of my gestures are markedly Indian. I even get to hum Dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsilay huey during the play. But thereís no mention of my being an Indian. Race is not an issue today. There was one English, American and Indian character.

Q: Does a stage performance rejuvenate you'

Iíve always believed itís essential not only for film actors to do theatre, but also for theatre actors to do cinema. Theyíre different disciplines, both important.

Betrayal was a very important step for me. It featured me with the twice Tony-nominee Peter Friedman. Just being around such a seasoned actor teaches you so much about theatre acting, for instance, how to carry your voice from stage to the last row. Here, you can forget your line in front of a live audience. In cinema you use your voice differently. Cinema makes you smug. Ek take nahin theek hua to kar lenge. I say, why' Why shouldnít we attempt to get it right the first time'

You know, during my earlier phase as a film actor I used to give so much of myself to the rehearsals that Iíd dry myself up at the final take. It was Vinod Mehra who taught me to hold back. Heíd hold my hand and say, ĎRemember this a rehearsal.í

Q: What have you come back to'

At the moment in terms of films thereís just Umrao Jaan. Doing my motherís role is such an exciting thought.


Trust Shabana Azmi to spring surprises galore. Even as she returned from Singapore for her birthday on September 18, she flew down to Santiniketan for the release of a very unique project.

ďItís a Bengali album called Tomar Akaash Dao, containing a recitation of Rabindranath Tagoreís poetry which Iíve done with Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee,Ē she says, delighted. ďSomnath Chatterjee is a big Tagore fan and he has the most gorgeous voice. He has recited some of Tagoreís poems in Bengali while Iíve recited six of Tagoreís poems in English. His daughter, Anusheela, has sung some poems.Ē

Shabana isnít the first film personality to have done a serious album of poems. Amitabh Bachchan has recited his own father the illustrious Harivansh Rai Bachchanís poems, and Shabanaís father, the distinguished Kaifi Azmi did an album of his own poems. But this is certainly the first time that an Indian actress (or, for that matter, an actress from any part of the world) has got together with a politician to cut an album.

ďYouíre telling me!Ē Shabana laughs. ďSomnath Chatterjee wrote to me asking if Iíd do this album. Heís such a lovely man. I readily agreed. It was a very, very nice experience. Now letís see what the Bongs do with it. I recorded the album very quietly when I was shooting Aparna Senís 15 Park Avenue in Calcutta…you know I donít like brouhaha about anything I do. Iím very superstitious about things going wrong. To woh maine kar liya chup-chaap baith kar. Now when I came back from Singapore, Javed and I went straight to Santiniketan for its release. Javed released the album.Ē

This isnít the first time that Shabana has cut an album. In Shyam Benegalís Mandi she sang a song for composer Vanraj Bhatia and in Muzaffar Aliís Anjuman she sang the entire album.

Email This Page