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Shabana Azmi

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Title: Shabana Azmi  
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Subject: Ankur (film), List of Bollywood films of 1984, Sharmila Tagore, Waheeda Rehman, Nargis
Collection: 1950 Births, Actresses in Hindi Cinema, Best Actress National Film Award Winners, Film and Television Institute of India Alumni, Filmfare Awards Winners, Gandhi International Peace Award Recipients, Indian Actresses, Indian Film Actresses, Indian Muslims, Indian Stage Actresses, Indian Women Activists, Living People, Nominated Members of the Rajya Sabha, People from Azamgarh, People from Delhi, Recipients of the Padma Bhushan, Recipients of the Padma Shri, St. Xavier's College, Mumbai Alumni, University of Mumbai Alumni
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Shabana Azmi

Shabana Azmi
Shabana Azmi at Apsara Film Awards, 2012
Born Shabana Kaifi Azmi
(1950-09-18) 18 September 1950
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, (now in Telangana,) India
Residence Mumbai, India
Occupation Actress, Social activist
Years active 1972–present
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Javed Akhtar (1984–present)
Parent(s) See Akhtar-Azmi family

Shabana Azmi (born 18 September 1950) is an Indian actress of film, television and theatre. An alumna of the Film and Television Institute of India of Pune, she made her film debut in 1974 and soon became one of the leading actresses of Parallel Cinema, a Bengali new-wave movement known for its serious content and neo-realism and received government patronage during the times.[1][2] Regarded as one of the finest actresses in India, Azmi's performances in films in a variety of genres have generally earned her praise and awards, which include a record of five wins of the National Film Award for Best Actress and several international honours.[1][3] She has also received four Filmfare Awards.

Azmi has appeared in over 120 Hindi and Bengali films in both mainstream and independent cinema, and since 1988 she has acted in several foreign projects. Numerous of her films have been cited as a form of progressivism which portrays Indian society, its customs and traditions. In addition to acting, Azmi is a social and women's rights activist. She is the wife of poet and screenwriter Javed Akhtar.[4] She is a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) which seeks to spread contraception and abortion in India in order to limit that country's population. In appreciation of Azmi's life and works, the Congress party's government gave her a nominated (unelected) membership of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament.[5]


  • Early life and background 1
  • Career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Social activism 4
  • Selected filmography 5
  • Television 6
  • Awards and honours 7
    • National Awards 7.1
    • Filmfare Awards 7.2
    • International awards 7.3
    • Other awards 7.4
    • Honours and recognitions 7.5
  • References 8
  • Notes 9
  • External links 10

Early life and background

Shabana Azmi was born into a Muslim family in Hyderabad,[6] India. Her parents are Kaifi Azmi (an Indian poet) and Shaukat Azmi (a veteran Indian People's Theatre Association stage actress),[5] 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 thriving 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 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.[7][8][9]

Azmi did her schooling at the premier girl's school, Queen Mary School, Mumbai. 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.[5] She described the reason she decided to attend the film institute, saying, "I 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.[10]


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".[11]

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 characterised 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.[5]

She was the initial choice for Deepa Mehta's Water which was actually planned to hit the floors in 2000. Few scenes were already shot. Azmi had to shave her head with Nandita Das to portray the character of Shakuntala. However, due to political reasons, the film was shelved and later shot in 2005 with Seema Biswas replacing Azmi.[12]

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 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 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.

Personal life

Azmi married Javed Akhtar, a lyricist, poet and Bollywood scriptwriter[4] on 9 December 1984, making her a member of the Akhtar-Azmi film family.[13] It was Akhtar’s second marriage, the first being with Bollywood scriptwriter, Honey Irani. However Shabana's parents objected her to being involved with a very much married man with 2 children (Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar).[14][15] Indian actresses Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces and Tanvi Azmi is her sister-in-law.

Social activism

Azmi has been a committed social activist, active in supporting child survival and fighting AIDS and injustice in real life.[16][17] 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 calling upon the Muslims of India to join the people of Afghanistan in their fight by retorting that the leader go there alone.[18]

She has campaigned against ostracism of victims of AIDS.[16] A small film clip issued by the Government of India depicts an HIV positive child cuddled in her arms and saying: "She does not need your rejection, she needs your love". In a Bengali film named Meghla Akash she played the role of a physician treating AIDS patients.

She has also given her voice to an TeachAIDS.[19]

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. In 1998, the United Nations Population Fund appointed her as its Goodwill Ambassador for India.[16]

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 and Scandinavian countries, 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.


Awards and honours

National Awards

Azmi has received the National Film Award for Best Actress five times, making her the overall most-awarded actor in the function:[5]

Filmfare Awards



International awards

Other awards

Honours and recognitions

  • 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"
  • 1999: Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image, Significant Contribution to Indian Cinema.[21]
  • 2002: Martin Luther King Professorship award by the University of Michigan conferred on her in recognition of her contribution to arts, culture and society.
  • 2003: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the Jadavpur University in West Bengal in 2003.[22]
  • 2006: Gandhi International Peace Award, awarded by Gandhi Foundation, London.[23]
  • 2007: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Art by Chancellor of the University Brandan Foster by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Yorkshire[24]
  • 2008: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the Jamia Milia Islamia on Delhi in 2008.[22]
  • 2009: She was honoured with the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award[25]
  • 2012: Awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.[26]
  • 2012: She was honoured by Walk of the Stars as her hand print was preserved for posterity at Bandra Bandstand in Mumbai.
  • 2013: Awarded the Honorary Fellowship by the National Indian Students Union UK[27]
  • 2013: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by Simon Fraser University.[28]
  • 2014: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by TERI University on 5 February 2014.[29]


  1. ^ a b PTI (22 July 2005). "Parallel cinema seeing changes: Azmi".  
  2. ^ K., Bhumika (21 January 2006). "Shabana's soap opera". Chennai, India:  
  3. ^ Nagarajan, Saraswathy (18 December 2004). "Coffee break with Shabana Azmi". Chennai, India:  
  4. ^ a b Edward A. Gargan (17 January 1993). "In 'Bollywood,' Women Are Wronged or Revered". New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Gulzar; Nihalani, Govind; Chatterjee, Saibal; Encyclopaedia Britannica (India) Pvt. Ltd. (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi cinema. Popular Prakashan. p. 524.  
  6. ^ "Shabana Azmi presented Akkineni award". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 14 January 2007. 
  7. ^ Kaifi Azmi (28 May 1997). "Kaifi Azmi".  
  8. ^ Shabana Azmi (2 October 2010). "To Abba... with love". Screen. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  9. ^ "A conversation with actress and social activist Shabana Azmi".  
  10. ^ "Indo-American Arts Council". 
  11. ^ "Shabana Azmi".  
  12. ^
  13. ^ THE DYNAMIC DYNASTIES: What would the world of films be without them? Screen, 22 September 2000.
  14. ^ Ali Peter John (8 December 2000). "Javed Akhtar: It’s not so easy".  
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c "Biographies: A-F". United Nations. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  17. ^ "World population crosses 6 billion".  
  18. ^ Rasheeda Bhagat (14 November 2001). "The Indian Muslims trial by fire".  
  19. ^ "Animated film to educate students on HIV".  
  20. ^ 38th Annual BFJA Awards at the Wayback Machine (archived May 1, 2008)
    50th Annual BFJA Awards at the Wayback Machine (archived May 1, 2008)
  21. ^ "Archives 1999".  
  22. ^ a b Arif Roomy (21 March 2013). "Shabana proud of her hubby Dr. Javed Akhtar".  
  23. ^ "2006 Peace Award: Shabana Azmi".  
  24. ^ Amit Roy (11 June 2007). "Amit degree in Gandhi hall".  
  25. ^ "WEF honours Amitabh with Crystal Award". The Financial Express. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  26. ^ "Padma Awards". pib. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  27. ^ "Shabana Azmi Javed Akhtar get UK fellowship". 
  28. ^ Arif Roomy (21 March 2013). "'"Tweethood – Azmi Shabana mentioning 'Azmi.  
  29. ^ "TERI university honours Shabana Azmi, Anshu Jain".  


  • India’s 50 Most Illustrious Women (ISBN 81-88086-19-3) by Indra Gupta
  • Holt, Julia; Phalke, Shubhra; Basic Skills Agency. Shabana Azmi. London : Basic Skills Agency, 1995. ISBN 1-85990-022-4.

External links

  • Shabana Azmi at the Internet Movie Database
  • Shabana Azmi NGO in India
  • One on One – Shabana Azmi on YouTube – interview on Al Jazeera English (video, 25 mins)
  • Time: Shabana Azmi
  • Indian American Arts Council
  • Article from the Village Voice
  • EveryOne campaign brand ambassador: Shabana Azmi
  • Shabana Azmi on Twitter
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