Shabana Azmi: An Unconventional Actress

Jul/31/2023 / by Team Seema
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1950s, India began a new movement in cinema. It was motivated by a strong desire for change and a new way of thinking. Known as parallel cinema, it would forever alter the landscape of Indian entertainment. It was a new genre that encompassed strong critical thinking about everyday life in India.

For Shabana Azmi, parallel cinema would become the focal point of her acting career. She accepted roles in movies that spoke plainly of modern Indian society with its norms and traditions.

The Earliest Years

Born on September 18, 1950, Shabana Azmi came from a long line of creative souls. Her father, Kaifi, was a well-known Indian poet with a strong taste for verse. Her mother, Shaukat, was a stage actress and a member of the Indian People’s Theater Association. Her brother Baba, a professional cinematographer, photographed and recorded films for a living.

Family Influence

Shabana Azmi came from a strong family background of artists whose passion for lifelong learning was contagious. Curiosity was encouraged as a vital part of intellectual development, and political involvement was the norm. From an early age, Shabana developed a deep fondness for the moral and social issues of her day. Her parents were members of India’s Communist party and were very active in local and national politics.

Early Adulthood

After high school, Shabana went on to college. Her initial interests were in psychology. At St. Xavier’s College, she earned her master’s degree in that field but soon took an interest in film and television. Shabana enrolled in the Film and Television Institute in India and began studying cinema. From there, she took on various minor roles before making her big debut with Ankur.

In Ankur, Shabana Azmi was cast into the role of a servant and village housewife. Azmi’s role as Lakshmi accurately portrays the frustrations that were common in India’s lower castes. Her marriage to a local potter in Hyderabad was rife with addiction. Consequently, Lakshmi attempts to find her way out by other means. She has an affair with the landlord’s son. The story soon unfolds and tells a tale of infidelity, revenge, and violence.

Other Roles

Shabana Azmi went on to star in various films throughout her career. She took on a role in Khandar where she plays the lonely Jamini, whose arranged marriage plans with a distant relative end when he marries someone else. She is visited by three friends, one of whom takes pity and pretends to be her beau. The storyline reflects the reality of single life for Indian women and is an accurate portrayal of the social values of marriage and family.

Her other roles in movies such as Godmother cast her as the passive Rambhi, wife of the once successful farmer Veeram whose crops are threatened by drought. Together, they face the threat of starvation which forces him to join India’s mafia. He takes on the important position as a don whose influence in a corrupt political system in India grants him new power which comes at a personal price.

Personal Life

Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar started dating after her first romance quickly ended. It would be Shabana’s first marriage and Javed’s second. They didn’t have children of their own. However, that didn’t stop Shabana from adopting the children he had with his first wife. To date, there isn’t much known about their marriage, but there’s more to her life than meets the eye.

Social Justice Warrior

It can be rightfully said that Shabana Azmi is a strong supporter of social justice. She fights for many causes, one being the rights of AIDS and HIV patients to be included in society. Her contributions towards AIDS education and advocacy have helped to eradicate the stigma that’s associated with the disease.

Her other causes focus around ending strife between Hindus and Muslims. She recognizes the issues of prejudice that arise between India’s two dominant religions and has sought to create a dialog of understanding between the two. Her compassion and sense of caring have been what has made Shabana Azmi a huge success as a parallel cinema actress and an activist.


Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Get notified about exclusive stories every week!

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Seema will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.