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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]

Contents

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]

Career

Azmi and Akhtar at the Sony studio for a program

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. Upperstall.com 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]

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. It was Akhtar’s second marriage, the first being with Bollywood scriptwriter, Honey Irani.[10] Indian actresses Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces.

Social activism

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 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 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.[11] 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.

Select 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.

Awards and honors

National Awards

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

Shabana Azmi receiving the National Award for Best Actress for the film Godmother from the former Indian President K. R. Narayanan in 2000

Filmfare Awards

Winner:

Nominated:

International awards

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:

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.

Notes

  1. ^ a b PTI (22 July 2005). "Parallel cinema seeing changes: Azmi". The Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1179589.cms. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  2. ^ K., Bhumika (21 January 2006). "Shabana's soap opera". The Hindu. http://www.hindu.com/mp/2006/01/21/stories/2006012100690100.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  3. ^ Nagarajan, Saraswathy (18 December 2004). "Coffee break with Shabana Azmi". The Hindu. http://www.hindu.com/mp/2004/12/18/stories/2004121801660100.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-31. 
  4. ^ a b Edward A. Gargan (17 January 1993). "In 'Bollywood,' Women Are Wronged or Revered". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/17/movies/film-in-bollywood-women-are-wronged-or-revered.html?pagewanted=all. 
  5. ^ Kaifi Azmi (28 May 1997). "Kaifi Azmi". Outlook. http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?203602. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  6. ^ Shabana Azmi (2 October 2010). "To Abba... with love". Screen. http://www.screenindia.com/old/20011102/ftribute.html. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "A conversation with actress and social activist Shabana Azmi". Charlie Rose. 6 March 2006. http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/511. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  8. ^ "Indo-American Arts Council". http://www.iaac.us/Indian%20Diaspora%20Film%20Festival%202004/Shabanaazmi.htm. 
  9. ^ "Shabana Azmi". Upperstall.com. http://www.upperstall.com/people/shabana-azmi. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  10. ^ Ali Peter John (8 December 2000). "Javed Akhtar: It’s not so easy". Screen. http://www.screenindia.com/old/20001208/freview.htm. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  11. ^ Rasheeda Bhagat (14 November 2001). "The Indian Muslims trial by fire". The Hindu Business Line. http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2001/11/14/stories/041455jr.htm. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  12. ^ "2006 Peace Award: Shabana Azmi". Gandhi Foundation. http://gandhifoundation.org/2006/11/14/2006-peace-award-shabana-azmi/. Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  13. ^ "WEF honours Amitabh with Crystal Award". The Financial Express. 2 February 2009. http://www.financialexpress.com/news/wef-honours-amitabh-with-crystal-award/417839/. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 
  14. ^ Amit Roy (11 June 2007). "Amit degree in Gandhi hall". The Telegraph. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070611/asp/nation/story_7906779.asp. Retrieved 5 March 2010. 

References

  • 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 1859900224.

External links








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