Once you declare yourself an artist, Shonali Bhowmik knows, you can define the word however you like. Bhowmik herself is an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist. And a storyteller/poet. And a standup comedian.
And a (sometimes gainfully employed) contract lawyer (!!)
Even so, she considers herself an artist, with all the tag entails.
"I think the best thing about my life — and it should be like this for everyone's life — is that I feel very free to move from one thing to another," declares the Nashville native. "I'm sure I have some fears, but for the most part I'm relatively fearless."
And hey now, with Sardines Out of a Can, she's a filmmaker, too.
"I know first and foremost I will always play music," Bhowmik says. "I'm confident with it, and I'm definitely not trying to sell a million records and be a Miley Cyrus. That's something that will always be.
"But I think that I'm always up for a new challenge. I can always go make a new record, but I thought this (film) was something I had to start doing now, otherwise it might escape me somehow."
Sardines is an offbeat, 22-minute comedy the New York City resident wrote, directed and starred in. Bhowmik will screen it Nov. 23 (Saturday night) at Hang Fire, read from her latest works, and play a set of tunes from her bands (Ultrababyfat, Tigers & Monkeys) and from her well-received solo album, the folk/pop wondermint 100 Oaks Revival.
She also intends to perform with Scott "Panhandle Slim" Stanton, whose paintings are going on special display that very evening. "It should be a Variety Day of Art," she says. "I know it'll be entertaining, at the least."
All of this makes sense when you understand that Ultrababyfat — the late, great Atlanta-based indie-garage foursome — used to appear regularly at the Jinx in its Velvet Elvis days. And Hang Fire owner Wes Daniel was already a good buddy of Shonali's up in the Georgia capital before he moved to Savannah.
"There's a few towns that I feel connected to in a bigger way than a town I've just played rock 'n' roll in," Bhowmik confesses. "And Savannah is definitely one of them."
Another is Gainesville, Florida, where in the old days she got to know Stanton and his quirky band, the Causey Way.
Shonali Bhowmik has a thing about her friends.
The Manhattan resident is one-quarter of the all-female comedy collective Variety Shac, which divides its time between live standup and the creation of bizarre and frightfully funny short videos for the www.varietyshac.com website.
And that's what led to Sardines Out of a Can, a sort of New York hipster dating primer. One of Bhowmik's co-stars is Adam Wade, who has taken top honors in George Dawes Green's The Moth StorySlam competition 18 times.
"I think my strength is relating to all types of people, in every area," Bhowmik says. "I met all kinds of people in those worlds; I'm not just insulated in the comedy world.
"My hope is to do another film, something that comes out of the reading I will do on Saturday. I'm not going to tell you what it is ... I also hope to be a storyteller that has some heart and some sweetness. A lot of my comedian friends are not as prone to be able to tell sweet stories.
"They're a little embarrassed to do that."
(One thing about Shonali Bhowmik — she laughs loud, and often, and sometimes so hard that she snorts. This is just one of things that make her so endearing. Another is Sardines Out of a Can, which is a hoot.)
Due out by year's end is a new Tigers & Monkeys album, recorded two years ago, concurrently with Bhowmik's solo release. She's just getting around to it now.
That's because she keeps herself so darn busy — in fact, to concentrate on Sardines, and Variety Shac, and her newest music, she resigned from the law firm where she was doing "socially helpful" contract work.
"I figured there wasn't enough time to do it all," Bhowmik explains, "so I quit. I feel like that was a treadmill. I could always go back.
"But I'm using all the money; I'm probably going to have to start all over with my savings pretty soon, but I don't care. It's just been awesome. If you don't take the risk, what's gonna happen? You just sit in an office all day?"