Music artist and actor Saba Azad on juggling multiple hats
Tricenarian Saba Azad of Madboy/Mink and Rocket Boys fame, has done it all. Starting with theatre and music, she has expanded her skills to films, shows, and direction as well.
Being a successful actor or a successful music artist comes with its own set of challenges. But to excel in both, and beyond, takes more than just hard work. For Saba Grewal, more popularly known by her stage name Saba Azad, acting and music came at the same time.
Popular for her electro funk music band Madboy/Mink, Azad debuted in Bollywood with Dil Kabbadi (2008). More recently, Azad made headlines for her role as Parvana Irani in Rocket Boys.
Earlier, in August this year, Azad shared the stage with Ratna Pathak Shah, Tarun Dhanrajgir, and Vivaan Shah, for Man Woman Man Woman, written and directed by Naseeruddin Shah, in association with Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films.
In a candid chat with YS Life, Azad talks about juggling multiple hats and her latest projects.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YS Life (YSL): Where are you in your career now? Do you think you are where you wanted to be?
Saba Azad (SA): I am actually in a very delightful place in my career right now. I have four releases–two shows and two films. I am starting to work on another season of another show. I am also working with my band, Madboy/Mink. Also, I recently released Man Woman Man Woman, so it's a very, very exciting year for me workwise–with both music and acting.
And with direction, I directed my first music video! I'm very excited about sinking my teeth into that side of things as well–getting behind the camera.
YSL: In an earlier interview you had mentioned that you came to Mumbai alone and had to build everything from scratch. Could you briefly tell me about your journey so far, and how has your family–who are heavily into academics and arts, influenced you?
SA: I think I started with performing arts, and have been on stage since the age of four. I come from a theatre family, and while I was doing theatre, I was also in the choir in the theatre group. So, music and theatre kind of went hand-in-hand for me.
Because my parents were so much into arts, they kept asking if I wanted to do something in the field. So, I was also attending multiple dance classes. It was a very conducive environment for someone who wanted to grow creatively and artistically. Growing up, my parents exposed us to incredible music and theatre. We grew up watching Russian, Japanese, and Chinese cinema. My brother and my mind would be flooded with these images.
I think my parents were very instrumental in guiding me in the right direction.
YSL: Could you share the highlights of your journey so far?
SA: As a child, I have worked with Habib Tanvir. What a legend to be directed by when you’re a toddler!
Moving to Mumbai on my own was another highlight. Within a year of moving to Mumbai, I landed my first film–Dil Kabaddi–that was definitely seminal for me. To work with people who are considered one of the most incredible actors in the industry, to get to work with them in your first film is quite amazing.
After that there have been films and shows, but what stands out the most is Rocket Boys (2022), because I hadn’t done something that made me feel the kind of satisfaction that Rocket Boys did. I worked with these incredible actors and we were on the project for almost three years. So that was definitely life changing.
YSL: Bhar De Hamara Glass is an absolute favourite. It is so refreshing! And more recently, Sab Farzi is also such a banger. What is your thesis or thought process like when you select to work on a project?
SA: I feel like with good music, songs come to you. For most playback singers, someone calls and offers you a song. If you’re a composer, it’s different. But if you’re just a playback singer, it’s not so much about choosing, it’s about what comes your way.
YSL: What is the story behind the transformation of Saba Grewal to Saba Azad?
SA: Nothing too complicated, really. I just liked the ring of Saba Azad!
Azad was actually my Nanni’s (grandmother) pen-name. She was a writer, amongst many other things. I think she got it from her father, who also went by Azad, and I just loved the sound of it.
I also think that people attach preconceived notions to who you are based on what your surname is, or where you come from. I felt like Azad was such a beautiful and freeing-kind of name. It doesn't tell you where I come from, and it sounded really poetic to me, and it resonated with me.
So, I asked my Nanni if I can have it, and she said yes. So, it’s a stage name for me. I am still Saba Grewal on paper.
YSL: Saba the music artist, or Saba the actor–which happened first and which one is more challenging?
SA: Music and acting happened simultaneously and for me because–I was on the stage and was a part of the choir. So, singing and dancing happened together.
Choosing between the two is like having to pick an arm or a leg. I love doing both, they nourish my soul in different ways.
YSL: What are some of the similarities between the two art forms?
SA: I find performing arts, like performance, kind of blend really beautifully to each other, since you are interacting with a live audience in both. You have to figure out your audience–whether in dance, music, or theatre. If you have an audience that’s dead, you need to know how to build a rapport and create that electricity.
YSL: Which has been the most creatively satisfying project so far?
SA: I actually directed my first music video a few months ago. I have been directing plays for a while, but this was the first time I directed on camera and I am hooked. I think I'm going to be doing a lot of that.
YSL: You are a history student, you sing jazz, you compose music, you act, and now you are also a director. While constantly juggling between one art form to another, do you ever face some kind of an identity crisis?
SA: I have a short attention span. And thank God for my multiple careers, otherwise, I'd be bored off my head. I’m very sufficiently entertained between the things that I do whether it's playback, voiceover, theatre, cinema, music, directing, dancing, and choreographing! I'm really sufficiently entertained, with all the things that I get to do, and I'm so thankful for that. It's really a blessing.
YSL: What’s next for Saba Azad?
SA: I am actually in the conceptualising stages of another show where I'm actually helping write. And so, I have my hands in a number of pies. But I have some four releases by the end of the year. It's been a busy year, I've been shooting, and also touring for the band. It's been a great year workwise I'm just really thankful.
Edited by Megha Reddy