Interesting Facts and Figures: Shabana Azmi

April 21st, 2009 - 9:33 pm ICT by Sampurn Wire  

Shabana Azmi Shabana Azmi (born 18 September 1950 in New Delhi, India) is one of the leading actresses of parallel cinema.

She is a film actress as well as a social activist, and her performances in films in a variety of genres have generally earned her praises and awards including five wins of National Film Award for Best Actress.

She is married to Indian poet Javed Akhtar.

Shabana Azmi was born in a Muslim family. Her parents named, Kaifi Azmi - a renowned Indian poet and writer of Urdu, and Shaukat Azmi - a well known stage actress.

Her brother, Baba Azmi, is a cinematographer. Her parents had an active social life, and their home was always throbbing with people and activities.

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.

She completed a graduation degree in Psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, followed by a course in Acting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. She topped the list of successful candidates of 1972.

Her first movie to be released was Shyam Benegal’s Ankur (1972), which won the national award.

However, her first film was an art film, made by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Faalsa, which was released in 1974. Her roles in both the films attracted positive comments both from the reviewers and the audiences.

She received the national awards consecutively for three years from 1983 to 1985 for her roles in movies, Arth, Khandhar and Paar. Another film named Godmother (1999) brought her another national award taking her tally to five national awards.

Shabana’s acting has been characterized by a life like real depiction of the roles played by her.

In Mandi she acted as a madam of a whorehouse, and to act this role she put on weight and even chewed betel. Real life like portrayals continued in almost all of her movies with a variety of roles, including a tragic 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 did many roles 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. Radha being the name of a goddess and the on-screen depiction of lesbianism (perhaps the first in Indian cinema) drew severe protests from many social groups of India, and also threats of ban by 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 noted 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 Guussa Kyon Aata Hai; Sai Paranjpye’s Sparsh and Disha; Gautam Ghose’ Paar; Aparna Sen’s Picnic and Sati ; Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth; Vinay Shukla’s Godmother.

Her other films include the commercially successful Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish (of Manmohan Desai) and Prakash Mehra’s Jwalamukhi. Azmi has also starred in a number of Hollywood productions, the first being John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka (1988), followed by Roland Joffe’s City of Joy (1992), among others.

Shabana’s debut to the small screen began with her acting in a soap opera with a cause, Anupama, that is, the unique or the unparallel.

She did the role of a modern Indian woman who while endorsing the 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), which was a version of the Caucasian Chalk Circle; and Farouque Shaikh’s Tumhari Amrita, which ran almost five years.

She toured Singapore for about a month on an assignment by the Singapore Repertory Theatre Company, doing role in Ingmar Bergman’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Doll House, which was directed by Rey Buono.

In the initial stage of her career, she was linked to noted film director Shekhar Kapur, but married Javed Akhtar, a famed lyricist, poet and Bollywood scriptwriter on 9 December 1984.

It was Akhtar’s second marriage, the first being with the Bollywood scriptwriter, Honey Irani.

Her brother is Baba Azmi; Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces.

Shabana Azmi has been a committed social activist, active in fighting AIDS 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 neglected 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 September 11 2001 attacks, she opposed the advice of an important religious leader calling upon the Muslims of India to join the people of Afghanistan in their fight by retorting that the leader go there alone.

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.
-Sampurn Media
Shabana Azmi

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