Bollywood Legends - Shabana Azmi
"I am a daughter, a wife, a mother, a woman, an actress, an Indian and a Muslim. Each of these identities is important to me." – Shabana
How succinctly Shabana Azmi says it all. This is exactly what she is and what she stands for.
Shabana Azmi is the resurgent face of feminism of modern India. It is a different matter that she is equally acclaimed for her brilliance on the celluloid. Her social activism and the courage to call a spade a spade, has made her a cut above the rest, of the usual lot of Bollywood stars. Shabana’s striking countenance that fits into a vast spectrum of roles; coupled with her unmatched prowess, to emote and empathise with versatile characters, has made her hold sway on a genre of cinema for three decades. She is the pioneer of parallel movement in the Indian cinema and is the undisputed monarch of her territory. It is highly unlikely that times shall find her an heir, to carry forward her prolific legacy.
Shabana Azmi was born to poet-activist, the legendary Kaifi Azmi and Shaukat, an actress on September 18, 1950. Apparently she has inherited a lot of talent and intellect from her parents. Shabana graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India in 1972.
She made her debut in Shayam Benegal’s Ankur (1972). The film paid her rich dividends. Ankur not only became a harbinger of the parallel cinema, but also fetched her the first National Award. Later she went on to win another four – a feat unparalleled in the annals of film industry. Eight years and fifteen films after her debut, she showcased her greatest award winning performance in Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (1982). Arth brought her yet another National Award and her first Filmfare award. It also placed her firmly in the orbit of the galaxy of film stars. She played a castaway wife, who had the mettle to take on the world. An equally brilliant performance by her illustrious co-star, the late Smita Patil, goaded Shabana to churn out her best. The rest of the three National Awards came from Khandar (1984), Paar (1985) and Godmother (1999). In Doosri Dulhan (1982), she played a prostitute to the hilt - the typical pan chewing and curse-spewing courtesan, who tries to seduce a millionaire out in search of a womb to father his child.
In the eighties, she acted in a large number of films. In her other two most popular films, like Swami (77) and Apne Paraye (80), based upon Saratchandra Chatterjee novels, she plays “the strong, traditional woman” who gracefully overcomes the infirmities associated with womanhood. Her second Filmfare award came from Bhavana. Swami won her the third Filmfare award for Best Actress. Masoom (1983), Khamosh (1985), Krishna (1987), Ek Admi (1988), and Disha (1990) moulded her image as an intelligent, responsible and thinking actress.
In the Immaculate Conception (1992), an English trans-cultural drama of Jamil Dehlvi, she played Samira- a Pakistani lady opposite James Wilby. The Son of Pink Panther directed by Blake Edwards; Rolland Joeff’s City of Joy; Nicholas Klotz’s The Bengali Night co -starred with John Hurt and Hugh Grant and John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka (1988), all won her immense International acclaim.
It stands to her credit that she can flit from art roles to a popular jean wearing Bollywood glam girl with ease. Her appreciable performances in Amar Akbar Anthony (1976) and Fakira (1978) bear ample testimony to this fact. Shabana, the adventurist came to fore, in her foray into the controversial subject like lesbianism, in Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996). In Mrityudand (1997), she picturised a barren woman who warms up to a socially inferior partner. To add further versatility to her profile, she played a witch in Vishal Bharadwaj’s horror flick- Makdi (2002). Lately, she figured in Khalid Mohamed’s Tehzeeb and easily overshadowed the skimpily clad co- artists.
Shabana, the actress of all seasons was included in the august jury of International Film Festivals held at Cairo and Montreal.
Shabana is married to an equally famous poet-lyricist and screenwriter husband Javed Akhtar. The Government of India honoured Shabana, a veteran of over hundred films with Padam Shri award in 1998. She was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, as a Member of Parliament by the President of India, an honour bestowed upon people who have attained excellence in their respective fields. She also has the distinction of holding the coveted post of United Nations Ambassador of Goodwill on Population and Development.
Shabana has assumed a great stature in social activism. She is an untiring crusader of human and women rights. She has unequivocally condemned and fought against religious fundamentalism, on hundreds of occasions from different platforms. She has never lagged behind in any endeavour to normalise matters, whenever communal amity and peace is held to ransom by anti-social elements. Shabana Azmi is always at the forefront in fight for a just cause whether it is for the cause of slum dwellers of Mumbai or for alleviation of those suffering from AIDS.
As an actress, may be Shabana is past her prime. But as a champion of progressive ideas, national integrity, peace and harmony she has many more miles to traverse. We wish her a long life so that she keeps on serving the society with the ardour, so inherently characteristic of her.