Shabana Azmi

Shabana Azmi

Shabana Azmi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 2006
Born 18 September 1950 (1950-09-18) (age 59)
New Delhi, India
Occupation Actress
Years active 1972–present
Spouse(s) Javed Akhtar

Shabana Azmi (Hindi: शबाना आज़मी, Urdu: شبانه عظمي; born 18 September 1950 in New Delhi, India) is one of the leading actresses of parallel cinema.[1][2] She is a film actress and social activist, and her performances in films in a variety of genres have generally earned her praise and awards including five wins of the National Film Award for Best Actress.[1][3] She is married to Indian poet and screenwriter Javed Akhtar.[4]


  • 1 Early life and background
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Personal life
  • 4 Social activism
  • 5 Selected filmography
  • 6 Awards and honors
    • 6.1 National Awards
    • 6.2 Filmfare Awards
    • 6.3 International awards
    • 6.4 Other awards
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links

[edit] Early life and background

Shabana Azmi was born in a Muslim family. Her parents are Kaifi Azmi (an Indian poet) and Shaukat Azmi (a stage actress), both of whom were members of the Communist Party of India. Her brother, Baba Azmi, is a cinematographer. Her parents had an active social life, and their home was always throbbing with people and activities of the communist party. It was not unusual for her to wake up in the morning and find members of the communist party sleeping about, from a previous night's communist social that ran late. Early in childhood, the environment in her home was inculcated into her a respect for family ties, social and human values; and her parents always supported her to develop a passion for intellectual stimulation and growth.[5][6][7]

She completed a graduate degree in Psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and followed it with a course in Acting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. She described the reason she decided to attend the film institute, saying, "I had had the privilege of watching Jaya Bhaduri in a (Diploma) film, Suman, and I was completely enchanted by her performance because it was unlike the other performances I had seen. I really marvelled at that and said, 'My god, if by going to the Film Institute I can achieve that, that's what I want to do.'" Azmi eventually topped the list of successful candidates of 1972.[8]

[edit] Career

Azmi graduated from the FTII in 1973 and went on to sign on Khwaja Ahmad Abbas' Faasla and began work on Kanti Lal Rathod's Parinay as well. Her first release, however, was Shyam Benegal's directorial debut Ankur (1974). Belonging to the arthouse genre of neo-realistic films, Ankur is based on a true story which occurred in Hyderabad. Azmi played Lakshmi, a married servant and villager who drifts into an affair with a college student who visits the countryside. Azmi was not the original choice for the film, and several leading actresses of that time refused to do it. The film went on to become a major critical success, and Azmi won the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performances. described her work in the film as "an outstanding psychologically penetrating performance very different from those seen normally till then in mainstream Hindi cinema", and famous independent filmmaker Satyajit Ray commented, "In Ankur she may not have fitted immediately into her rustic surroundings, but her poise and personality are never in doubt. In two high pitched scenes, she pulls out the stops to firmly establish herself as one of our finest dramatic actresses".[9]

She went on to receive the National Film Award consecutively for three years from 1983 to 1985 for her roles in movies, Arth, Khandhar and Paar. Another film Godmother (1999) earned her another National Film Award, taking her tally to five.

Azmi’s acting has been characterized by a real-life depiction of the roles played by her. In Mandi, she acted as a madam of a whorehouse. For this role, she put on weight and even chewed betel. Real life portrayals continued in almost all her movies. These included the role of a woman named Jamini resigned to her destiny in Khandhar, and a typical urban Indian wife, homemaker and mother in Masoom.

She also acted in experimental and parallel Indian cinema. Deepa Mehta’s 1996 film Fire depicts her as a lonely woman, Radha, in love with her sister-in-law. The on-screen depiction of lesbianism (perhaps the first in Indian cinema) drew severe protests and threats from many social groups as well as by the Indian authorities. Her role as Radha brought her international recognition with the Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress at the 32nd Chicago Film Festival and Jury Award for Best Actress at Outfest, Los Angeles.

Some of her notable films include Shyam Benegal's Nishant (1975), Junoon (1978), Susman (1986), and Antarnaad (1992); Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khiladi; Mrinal Sen’s Khandhar, Genesis, Ek Din Achanak; Saeed Mirza’s Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai; Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh and Disha; Gautam Ghose’s Paar; Aparna Sen’s Picnic and Sati ; Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth; Vinay Shukla’s Godmother. Her other films include the commercially successful Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony, and Parvarish and Prakash Mehra’s Jwalamukhi. Azmi starred in Hollywood productions such as John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka (1988) and Roland Joffe’s City of Joy (1992).

Azmi debuted on the small screen in a soap opera titled Anupama. She portrayed a modern Indian woman who, while endorsing traditional Indian ethos and values, negotiated more freedom for herself. She had also participated in many stage plays, and notable among them include M. S. Sathyu’s Safed Kundali (1980), based on The Caucasian Chalk Circle; and Feroz Abbas Khan's Tumhari Amrita along with actor Farooq Sheikh, which ran for five years. She toured Singapore on an assignment with the Singapore Repertory Theatre Company, acting in Ingmar Bergman’s adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll's House, which was directed by Rey Buono. Pointing out the differences in all these media, she once remarked that theatre was really the actor’s medium; the stage was actor’s space; cinema was the director’s medium; and television was a writer’s medium.[citation needed]

[edit] Personal life

In the initial stage of her career, she was linked to film director Shekhar Kapur. She married Javed Akhtar, a lyricist, poet and Bollywood scriptwriter[4] on 9 December 1984, making her a member of the Akhtar-Azmi film family.[10]. It was Akhtar’s second marriage, the first being with Bollywood scriptwriter, Honey Irani.[11] Indian actresses Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces.

[edit] Social activism

Shabana Azmi has been a committed social activist, active in fighting AIDS, child survival and injustice in real life. Shabana Azmi has voiced her opinion on a variety of issues. Initially, her activism drew skepticism and was dubbed by some as a publicity gimmick. However, she proved her critics wrong and used her celebrity status to emerge as a high-profile social activist.

She had participated in several plays and demonstrations denouncing communalism. In 1989, along with Swami Agnivesh and Asghar Ali Engineer, she undertook a four day march for communal harmony from New Delhi to Meerut. Among the social groups whose causes she has advocated are slum dwellers, displaced Kashmiri Pandit migrants and victims of the earthquake at Latur (Maharashtra, India). The 1993 Mumbai riots appalled her and she emerged as a forceful critic of religious extremism. After the 11 September 2001 attacks, she opposed the advice of the grand mufti of Jama Masjid (chief leader of Indian Muslims) calling upon the Muslims of India to join the people of Afghanistan in their fight by retorting that the leader go there alone.[12] Her strong reaction encouraged other moderate Muslim leaders to counsel restraint and tolerance, and to shun terrorism.

She has campaigned against ostracism of victims of AIDS. A small film clip issued by the Government of India depicts an HIV positive cuddled in her arms and saying: "She does not need your rejection, she needs your love". In a Bengali film named Meghla Aakash she played the role of a physician treating AIDS patients.

[edit] Selected filmography

She has acted in more than one hundred Hindi films, both in the mainstream as well as in parallel cinema. Several of her films have received attention in the international arena, including at the Norwegian Film Institute, the Smithsonian Institution and the American Film Institute. She has appeared in a number of foreign films, most of which have won international acclaim, including John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka, Nicholas Klotz’s Bengali Night, Roland Joffe’s City of Joy, Channel 4’s Immaculate Conception, Blake Edwards' Son of the Pink Panther, and Ismail Merchant’s In Custody.

  • Ankur (1974) - Laxmi
  • Nishant (1976) - Sushila
  • Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977) - Khurshid
  • Swami (1978) -
  • Sparsh (1980) - Kavita
  • Arth (1982) - Mrs. Pooja Inder Malhotra
  • Masoom (1983) - Indu D. Malhotra
  • Mandi (1983) - Rukmini Bai
  • The Bengali Night (1988) - Mrs. Sen
  • Madame Sousatzka (1988) - Sushila
  • City of Joy (1992) - Kamla Pal
  • In Custody (1993) - Imtiaz Begum
  • Son of the Pink Panther (1993) - Queen
  • Fire (1996) - Radha
  • Saaz (1997) - Bansidhar (Bansi) Vrundavan
  • Side Streets (1998) - Mrs. Chandra Bipin Raj
  • Earth (1998) - voice of older Lenny
  • Godmother (1999) - Rambhi
  • Makdee (2002) - Makdee
  • Tehzeeb (2003) - Rukhsana Jamal
  • Morning Raga (2004) - Swarnlatha
  • 15 Park Avenue (2005) - Anjali "Anju" Mathur
  • Waterborne (2005) - Heera Bhatti
  • Umrao Jaan (2006) - Khannum Jaan
  • Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (2007) - Nahid
  • Loins of Punjab Presents (2007) - Rita Kapoor
  • Sorry Bhai! (2008) - Mother Gayatri
  • It's a Wonderful Afterlife (2010) - Mrs. Mehta

[edit] Awards and honors

[edit] National Awards

Azmi has received the National Film Award for Best Actress five times:

  • 1975 - National Film Award for Best Actress, Ankur
  • 1983 - National Film Award for Best Actress, Arth
  • 1984 - National Film Award for Best Actress, Khandhar
  • 1985 - National Film Award for Best Actress, Paar
  • 1999 - National Film Award for Best Actress, Godmother

[edit] Filmfare Awards


  • 1978 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Swami
  • 1984 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Arth
  • 1985 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Bhavna
  • 2006 - Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award


  • 1975 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Ankur
  • 1981 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Thodisi Bewafaii
  • 1984 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Masoom
  • 1984 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Avtaar
  • 1984 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Mandi
  • 1985 - Filmfare Best Actress Award for Sparsh
  • 2003 - Filmfare Best Villain Award for Makdee
  • 2004 - Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for Tehzeeb

[edit] International awards

  • 1993: Best Actress award for Libaas in North Korea
  • 1994: Best Actress award for Gautam Ghose’s Patang at the Taormina Arte Festival in Italy
  • 1996: Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress for Fire at the Chicago International Film Festival
  • 1996: Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, for Fire in L.A. Outfest

[edit] Other awards

Shabana Azmi has received various awards for her long association with movies, and her work as a social activist and as an active parliamentarian. Other awards received by her include:

  • 1988: Awarded the Padma Shri from the government of India.
  • 1988: Yash Bhartiya Award by the Government of Uttar Pradesh for highlighting women’s issues in her work as an actress and activist.
  • 1994: Rajiv Gandhi Award for "Excellence of Secularism"
  • 1998: Star Screen Award Best Supporting Actress for Mrityudand.
  • 1998: Was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.
  • 1999: Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards, Best Actress for Godmother.
  • 2004: Zee Cine Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role- Female for Tehzeeb.
  • 2005: Star Screen Awards - Best Performance in an Indian Film in English for Morning Raga
  • 2006: Gandhi International Peace Award, awarded by Gandhi Foundation, London.[13]
  • International Awards for Best Actress for Gulzar’s Libaas in North Korea (1993), for Gautam Ghose’s Patang at the Taormina Arte Festival (1994) in Italy, and for Deepa Mehta’s Fire at the Chicago International Film Festival (1996).
  • She was honoured with the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award [14]/
  • She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Art by Chancellor of the University Brandan Foster by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Yorkshire[15]

Since 1989, she has been a member of the National Integration Council headed by the Prime Minister of India; a member of National AIDS Commission (of India); and was nominated (in 1997) as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. The United Nations Population Fund appointed her as its goodwill Ambassador for India, and the University of Michigan conferred (in 2002) on her the Martin Luther King Professorship award in recognition of her contribution to arts, culture and society.

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