Shabana Azmi - Actors and Actresses




Nationality: Indian. Born: 1950; daughter of the poet Kaifi Azmi and the actress Shaukat. Education: Attended Indian Film Institute, Poona. Family: Married to the screenwriter Javed Akhtar. Career: 1974—film debut in The Seedling , the first film of Shyam Benegal; 1980—on stage in Safed Kundali , the Hindi version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle ; 1994—on stage in Tumhari Amrita , the Hindi/Urdu version of Love Letters ; member of the UN Human Rights Commission. Awards: Best Actress, Indian National Film Awards, for The Seedling , 1974; The Meaning , 1982; Ruins , 1983; and The Crossing , 1984.


Films as Actress:

1973

The December Evening (short); Munshiji (short); Ankur ( The Seedling ) (Benegal)

1974

Parinay ; Ishq, Ishq, Ishq (Dev Anand); Faslah (Abbas)

1975

Sewak ; Kadamberi ; Nishant (Benegal)

1976

Fakira ; Shaque ; Vishwasghaat

1977

Aadha din aadhi raat ; Hira aur Patthar ; Amar Akbar Anthony (Desai); Chor Sipahi ; Ek hi rasta ; Parvarish ; Khel Khiladi ka ; Kissa Kursi Ka ; Karm ; Swami ; Kanneshwara Rama ; Zamanat

1978

Devata ; Atithee ; Swarg narak ; Khoon ki pukar ; Toote Khilone ; Junoon ( Obsession ) (Benegal); Shatranj Ke Khilari ( The Chess Players ) (Satyajit Ray) (as Mirza's wife)

1979

Bagula bhagat ; Amar deep ; Lahu ke do rang ; Sparsh (Paranjapye); Jeena yahan

1980

Jwalamukhi ; Albert Pinto ko gussa kyon aata hai ( Why Albert Pinto Is Angry ) (Mirza); Ek baar kaho ; Apne paraye ; Thodisi bewafai ; Yeh kaisa insaaf ; Hum paanch

1981

Ek hi bhool ; Shama ; Sameera (Shulka); Raaste pyare ke

1982

Namkeen ; Ashanti ; Anokha bandhan ; Suraag ; Yeh Nazdeekiyan ; Arth (Mahash Bhatt); Log kya kahenge ; Masoom ( Innocent ) (Shekhar Kapur)

1983

Doosri Doolhan ; Sweekar kiya maine ; Avtaar ; Mandi ( Market Place ) (Benegal); Khandahar ( The Ruins ) (Mrinal Sen) (as Jamila); Pyaasi Aankhen

1984

Aaj ka M.L.A. Ram Avtaar ; Bhavna ; Kamla ; Itihaas ; Lorie ; Libaas ; Sparsh (Paranjapye); Kamyaab ; Paar (Goutam Ghose); Gangvaa ; Hum Rahe Na Hum ; Yaadon K.I. Zanjeer ; Mr. X ; Ram Tera Desh

1985

Rahi Badal Gaye ; Uttarayan ; Khamosh (Vidhu Vinod Chopra) (as herself); Shart

1986

Anjuman (Muzaffar Ali); Ek Pal ; Samay Ki Dhara ; Nasihat ; Susman ( The Essence ) (Benegal); Genesis (Mrinal Sen) (as the woman)

1987

Itihaas ; Jallianwala Bagh ; Pestonjee (Vijaya Mehta)

1988

Mardon Wali Baat ; Madame Sousatzka (Schlesinger) (as Sushila Sen); Ek Din Achanak ( Suddenly, One Day ) (Mrinal Sen); Nuit Bengali ( Bengali Night ) (Klotz) (as Indira Sen)

1989

Oonch Neech Beech ; Libaas ; Jhoothi Sharm ; Rakhwala ; Main Azaad Hoon (Tinnu Anand); Sati (Aparna Sen)

1990

Disha (Paranjapye); Picnic (Aparna Sen—for TV); Amba ; Muqaddar Ka Badshah ; Ek Doctor Ki Maut

1991

Immaculate Conception (Jamil Dehlavi) (as Samira); Dharavi ( City of Dreams ) (Sudhir Mishra) (as Kumud)

1992

Adharm ; Jhoothi Shaan ; City of Joy (Joffé) (as Kamla Pal); Antarnaad

1993

Son of the Pink Panther (Edwards) (as the Queen)

1994

Patang ( The Kite ) (Goutam Ghose) (as Jitni); In Custody ( Hifazaat ) (Merchant) (as Imtiaz Begum)

1996

Fire (Deepa Mehta)

1997

Side Streets (Gerber) (as Chandra Raj)

1998

Mrityu Dand (Jha)

1999

Godmother (Shukla) (as Rambhi)



Publications


By AZMI: articles—

"Tsentr pritiazheniia," interview with A. Solodov, in Ishkusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 5, 1986.

Interview with M. Sen, in Cinema in India (Bombay), vol. 3, no. 1, 1992.

On AZMI: articles—

Gahlot, D., "Great Expectations," in Cinema in India (Bombay), vol. 4, no. 7, 1990.

Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, and Paul Willemen, in Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema , New Dehli, 1994.


* * *


Shabana Azmi shares with Smita Patil her position as the most important contemporary actress in Indian cinema (though not necessarily the most popular with the public) because of her unusual ability to successfully straddle the two worlds of commercial and art cinema. Many themes of the new cinema revolve around the personalities of women, providing opportunities for actresses to demonstrate their histrionic abilities. Azmi, like Patil, was not a conventional glamour girl, but through sheer personal magnetism found herself cast in Shyam Benegal's first film Ankur , a landmark in India's new cinema, after being turned down by him for a modeling assignment.

Azmi had always hoped to succeed in commercial films in order to cultivate a following for her art films. Her career was undoubtedly aided by the box-office success of her first big-budget movie, Fakira , which succeeded in spite of her. After several years and 60-odd films, making a dent in all kinds of cinema—from the lowest budget to the most crassly commercial—it is remarkable that she has been consistently shrewd enough to know which roles would suit her and yet impress the public with her versatility as an actress. From such roles as the madam of a brothel in Shyam Benegal's Mandi , a bellicose part for which she had to gain considerable weight, or the subdued Jamila in Mrinal Sen's Khandahar , where the camera lovingly explores her beauty amongst decaying ruins, she can switch to the tear-jerking melodramas which have won her a wider following.

Her secret lies in an ability to throw herself completely into the part, not worrying about what her friends think about a "dancing around the trees" routine. As she has said, "After a while, I realized that even such scenes needed a measure of talent to carry off convincingly and decided to throw myself into it wholeheartedly."

Azmi's multifaceted talents bring a three-dimensionality, depth, and freshness to every character she takes on. She is the child prodigy's grasping mother in Madame Sousatzka , the poet-pretender second wife of the aging poet Nur in In Custody , the unwedded tough mother Jitni in the Bengali film Patang , and the scheming queen in Son of the Pink Panther . Whether she is engaged in a war of wills with her son's teacher, or trying to push her own poetry above her husband's, or trying to bridge the gap between her son and lover, or planning the kidnaping of her stepdaughter, there is one common characteristic: she is vivacious.

More recently, Azmi tried her hand at stage acting in Tumhari Amrita , an adaptation of A. K. Gurney's Love Letters . Azmi and Farouque Shaikh, who formed the duo cast, sat on the stage just reading letters and pouring their hearts out in the process. The play was critically acclaimed and had rave responses from audiences, adding another to Azmi's impressive forte of talents. Azmi's commitment not only to the portrayal of the weaker sections of the society, but also to their upliftment has been manifested in many of her activities. Staging a hunger strike to stop the evacuation of slum dwellers, protesting the killing of noted playwright Safdar Hashmi, organizing the film industry to help the Bombay riot victims—her convictions earn credit to her as a concerned human being, as much as her histrionics bring her acclaim as an actress.

Azmi, called the activist actress, is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and presented their Peace Award to South African President Nelson Mandela in 1994. She was also honored at the General State of Human Rights Conference at Paris in 1989.

—Behroze Gandhy, updated by Usha Venkatachallam

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