‘Not fake news, mein Azad huun’

Though an achiever in her own right, but it is tough not to start the conversation with the fact that Saba Azad, actor, theatre director and one half of electro funk duo Madboy/Mink (with Imaad Shah) happens to be the niece of legendary theatre activist Safdar Hashmi, and grew up surrounded by some great music, literature and cutting-edge theatre.

“Yes, this definitely shaped my singing and the way I look at the world. The environment at home was conducive to being a creative individual. But most importantly, there was never any pressure except for doing quality work,” says Azad, who recently lent her voice to Yuvaa’s anti-fake news music anthem titled ‘Oops! I Shared It Again’ to lend support to UN’s global initiative ‘Verified’, which aims to combat the increasing burden and rapid spread of misinformation and fake news around Covid-19.

Stressing that considering the popularity of Britney Spears’ original number, making its parody for an important message turned out to be much fun, the actor, who was seen in movies like ‘Dil Kabaddi’ and ‘Mujhse Fraandship Karoge’ besides some short films, adds, “Siddhant sent me a track and I sang over it from the scratch. He sent it to the team at Yuvaa and they liked it. Initially, I was supposed to do the track on my own, but later felt that would be better to sing it with Siddharth, considering he is such an excellent singer.”

For someone who has always believed in associating herself with socio-political causes, Azad, who actively participated in the anti-CAA movement feels that it is important that art reflects the times we live in.

“Disassociating the socio- political environment with life is the biggest mistake we as a generation make. Politics has become a vulgar word only because we have systematically distanced ourselves from it. Unless the concerns of our times reflect in my art, I am simply practicing some form of escapism. Now this is something I am not okay with.”

Though things have seldom been smooth for a majority of Indian independent bands, she feels that ‘Madboy/Mink has been lucky considering the audience response. Adding that before the lockdown, things had become better for independent bands considering the in number of venues and clubs hosting live gigs.

She, however, adds: “Of course, there would be times when the government and the police would crack down on live venues, as if we harbour criminals. Suddenly, everything would shut down. Live music has always had an unsavoury relationship with the authorities. While loud religious music is kosher in our country, but anyone else playing it leads to all kind of problems.

“It is kind of a struggle, but the Internet has opened people’s minds and diversified their listening pallets. Audiences now want new music coming out from closer quarters and the struggle is actually monetizing live performances. While the Indian audience is evolving, there is a constant struggle to straddle this middle ground of earning a little and being true to yourself and your aesthetic.”

Talk to her about the increasing number of regional bands, and she adds, “Across the country, people are doing some excellent work in their own language. There is much hope but post the pandemic, we are also seeing a lot of music management companies shutting down and musicians not doing well — something that is really sad.”

Adding that acting, music and dancing complete her in ways more than one, Azad refuses to pin-point her favourite. “I couldn’t do without music or acting, they fuel different parts of my creative abilities. I am also a dancer, so for me all three are equally important. I need to be doing all of them to feel good and cannot really choose any one. Also, they lend to each other in such a beautiful way,” says the artist who has worked with some of the best known contemporary theatre directors in the country and made her directorial debut with the play ‘Lovepuke’.

The actor, who was also seen in ‘Home Stories’ has signed two shows, work for which will start in December and February besides doing several live gigs on digital platforms. “There has been a different kind of output, but it has been very interesting to take the audience out of the mix for us. We did this gig for Jio Saavn last month and it was interesting to perform to a camera and knowing that there are going to be people on the other side watching it. So yes, it is strange new world, but we are dealing with it — one day at a time.”

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