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    Shabana Azmi gets Canadian award

    [Interview by Gloria Suhasini]
    Wednesday, April 20, 2005
    Indian actress Shabana Azmi was presented with the Award of Excellence at the ReelWorld Film Festival here in recognition of her contribution to the independent film industry.

    Speaking to IANS after receiving the award Sunday, Shabana said, "Winning an award is a happy thing for an actor. You know when your work is recognized, it becomes even more meaningful."

    The actress, who has given powerful performances in several off-beat films, described as "very liberating" the new trend catching on in Indian cinema where it was becoming commercially viable to make niche films.

    "What is interesting is that actors are getting braver and more courageous and doing films that might not necessarily be commercially successful," she said.

    Shabana''s "Morning Raga", in which she plays the leading role, was screened at the festival.

    Asked what she thought about Indian diaspora filmmakers going to India to make films, Shabana said it was "wonderful".

    "That''s how markets should grow and that''s the power of commerce. Because, what it will do is, it will give employment to people of India. Let them come for that and then they discover to their surprise that there is also high-level technical expertise and directing talents available in India."

    The festival was founded by actress Tonya Lee Williams (best known for her role as Dr. Olivia Winters in the soap opera "The Young and the Restless").

    Excerpts from the interview:

    How important was it to receive the Award of Excellence from ReelWorld Film Festival?

    Because ReelWorld Film Festival is headed by an actor of the kind of vibrance that Tonya Lee Williams has and because she is creating space for a festival that celebrates diversity, it is important. After all, this is referred to as the Sundance Festival of Toronto. Winning an award is a happy thing for an actor. You know when your work is recognized, it becomes even more meaningful.

    What do you have to say about film festivals such as this one, promoting independent films?

    I think what Tonya is trying to do through this festival is very important. In fact I was wondering why this doesn't happen more often. I think actors can make huge contributions if they make space for younger filmmakers and help them. If people like us who have been in a position or have the privilege can create space for younger people -- to make the kinds of films they are doing without constraints only of catering to the lowest common denominator -- I find that very inspiring.

    How inspiring have you been to these young filmmakers?

    You know, people always come up [to me] and I'm very grateful that they place that kind of trust in me. Obviously, they are looking for advice ... they are looking for tips, and connections. I'm very happy to provide that, if I can. I have great expectations for the younger generations. If I can help them, I will.

    Do they also come to you asking you to be part of their films?

    All the time! But that really depends on the script. Ultimately, it has to be the quality of the script ... I must feel there is something that I would be interested in doing. But I am open to young people.

    Do you find any difference in working in co-productions, compared to domestic productions in India?

    Well, in the beginning, when I worked in films like "Madame Sousatzka" or the "City of Joy", or "Immaculate Conception", it was very different because those were all very systematic and organised... very 'into the system', rather than the kind of chaos that used to prevail in the Hindi film industry ... but with time, the Hindi film industry is changing.

    Earlier, the main difference was that it used to take three months for pre-production and two years to shoot the film and what we learned from that system is you take two years for pre-production and it takes [only] three months to complete the film.

    Has there been a change in how parallel cinema is received compared to when you started out 30 years ago?

    India has been liberating ...for the first time we have discovered that there is no Pan Indian audience ... that it is not necessary for a film to find acceptance in a village as well as in metropolitan cities ... It is becoming possible to make niche films and then make that commercially viable. So I think that is very liberating.

    You don't have to cater to the lowest common denominator ... you make the [film's] specificity its strength. At the moment it's happy time in India because all kinds of films are made at all kinds of budgets. Of course, there is this pressure to make very light weight, popcorn kind of a movie ... but that's fine as well, as long as it creates space for films that are different. What is interesting is that actors are getting braver and more courageous and doing films that might not necessarily be commercially successful.

    Several filmmakers of Indian diaspora across the world go to India to make films attracted by lower production cost etc. Do you think it's healthy for the Indian film industry?

    That's wonderful. That's how markets should grow and that's the power of commerce. Because, what it will do is, it will give employment to people of India. Let them come for that ... and then they discover to their surprise that there is also high-level technical expertise and directing talents available in India. They realise that the quality is on par with what they were bringing and less expensive for them.

    We are wooed by Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. They don't have any qualms about that and we shouldn't also have any qualms. We should welcome people from all over the world to come and makes films in India.


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