Shabana Azmi Biography
Shabana Azmi (Hindi: शबाना आज़मी, Urdu: شبانه عظمي) 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.
Early life and background
Shabana Azmi was born in a Muslim family. Her parents are Kaifi Azmi (a renowned Indian poet) 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 release 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 role in both films attracted positive comments both from the reviewers and the audiences. She received the national 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 award, taking her tally to five.
Shabana’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).
Shabana’s debuted on the small screen in a soap opera titled Anupama. She potrayed 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 Caucasian Chalk Circle; and Farouque Shaikh’s Tumhari Amrita, 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 Doll 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.
In the initial stage of her career, she was linked to noted film director Shekhar Kapur. She married Javed Akhtar, a famed lyricist, poet and Bollywood scriptwriter on 9 December 1984. It was Akhtar’s second marriage, the first being with Bollywood scriptwriter, Honey Irani. Indian actresses Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces.