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    I loved Hollywood: Shabana

    [Interview by Subhash K. Jha]
    Thursday, September 16, 2004
    Shabana Azmi is just back from Hollywood, thrilled to have worked in a film on mainstream American politics.

    "All second generation expatriates tend to delve into the area of identity crisis. (But the film) ''''Waterborne'''' is mainstream American politics. That''''s what makes it very important," Shabana told IANS in an interview.

    The actress, who is over 50, also revealed that she is superstitious and prefers not to talk about her projects till they are completed. Excerpts:

    What's your new film in Hollywood?

    It's a project called "Waterborne". I'm very charged about it. It's not a small, independent, off-mainstream Hollywood film. It's designed as a biggie. It's about a threat to the water system in Los Angeles.

    So it's a disaster film?

    Not at all! It's a hate crime film. I play a Sikh woman who runs a convenience store in Los Angeles with her young son. She's a strong businesswoman - something that I never was in my prime as an actress! When this water crisis happens in Los Angeles she immediately raises the price of bottled water. Her horrified son, played by Ajay Naidu, opposes her. But she shouts him down arguing, "When you become a businessman you'll know". She happily sells water for $3 per gallon.

    She's also a bit of a racist. She can't stand the fact that her son has an American girlfriend. She scolds him: "Why go for an American when there're so many nice Punjabi girls around?"

    And what age do you play?

    I play my own age. What I liked about "Waterborne" was its rough-and-tough mood. I play a self-made woman who has come up from scratch. When a terrorist attack happens, I get injured. My meek son goes completely ballistic. And when he turns on his American girlfriend in rage and frustration, it's up to my character to make the reconciliatory gesture.

    Through the thriller format, "Waterborne" brings in the whole political scenario in America today. So you see my character goes through several shades of change. I've always liked playing women who grow with the script.

    It looks like another post 9/11 actioner?

    No, I think it transcends 9/11 to address itself to the whole issue of cultural reconciliation. I think all Asians have to stop looking at themselves as victims in America. It's directed by Ben Rekhi who's a half-American, half-Sikh, New York University graduate. What I really found refreshing about Ben is that he isn't making a film about an identity crisis. All second- generation expatriates tend to delve into that area. "Waterborne" is mainstream American politics! That's what makes it very important.

    Did you have fun shooting it?

    Oh, loads! The whole crew was very young and very cosmopolitan, a veritable microcosm of how closely knit the world has become. Within the same crew you get people from all over the world - Chinese, Polish, Indian, Hispanic... That to me is very interesting.

    Because you like to absorb your surroundings?

    Shyam Benegal calls me a sponge. The crew of "Waterborne" was far more improvisational and collaborative than the formal studio films in Hollywood. Coincidentally there were lots of Bens on the sets. I just skipped over on Aug 13 and finished my work in 15 days. I was offered the film in June. But I kept it under wraps because I'm totally superstitious about my projects. Now that it's wrapped up I don't think anything can go wrong.

    I hope "Waterborne" turns out to be more pleasant finally than Blake Edwards' "Son Of The Pink Panther"?

    Why only that? What about my other international projects like "Side Streets", "Immaculate Conception", "The City of Joy", "Bengali Night" and "Madame Sousatzka"? What was wrong with these?

    Some of these films like "Bengali Nights" and "Side Streets" weren't even released.

    "Bengali Nights" was released in Paris. And "Side Streets" got released all over America. As for "Son Of The Pink Panther" I did it only because it was a three-day role, I got paid a fortune for it and they really, really wanted me. I was flown to be dressed by Armani. But I ended up looking like Sridevi gone wrong in "Roop Ki Rani..."! When I met Blake Edwards I was really (angry) because he hadn't removed his sun-glasses when he spoke to me. He turned out to be so sweet.

    Was "Waterborne" as pleasant?

    I lived in Hollywood and loved it. I was right next to Hollywood Boulevard. Right now since "The 10 Commandments" is being re-released they've turned the whole faƧade of Hollywood Boulevard into a set from the film. I also saw Mira Nair's "Vanity Fair". It's a huge Hollywood film. She made me very proud.

    Back home there's your "Morning Raga" on release.

    I can't tell you how happy I was when singers Anoop Jalota and Alka Yagnik told me they would never have been able to do some of the 'alaaps' that I did. Now that was what I call a compliment. And my mother saw the film three times. She said she had become my fan once again, like she was after "Ankur". I died!


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