Rohit wrote on 11 Aug 2008
She was born on 18 September 1950, to parents 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 subtle reference to lesbianism 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 in Arth; John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka(1988), Roland Joffe’s City of Joy (1992); Vinay Shukla’s Godmother. Her other popular films include Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish (of Manmohan Desai) and Prakash Mehra’s Jwalamukhi. 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. A number of her films 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 Edward’s the Son of Pink Panther and Ismail Merchant’s In Custody.
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. However, her "fight for injustice in real life" began with her own injustice to the marriage of Javed Aktar and Honey Irani. She played the home breaker in that drama. 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 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. Shabana Azmi’s long association with movies and her performances in them, as also her work as a social activist and an active parliamentarian, had been well and widely recognized, including conferment with several awards. Other awards received by her include: * 1988: Yash Bhartiya Award by the Government of Uttar Pradesh for highlighting women’s issues in her work as an actress and activist. * 1988: Awarded the Padma Shri from the government of India. * 1994: Rajiv Gandhi Award for "Excellence of Secularism" * 1998: Was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. * 2006: Gandhi International Peace Prize, awarded  by Gandhi Foundation, London. * 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 conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Art by Chancellor of the University Brandan Foster by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Yorkshire