Shabana Azmi

Shabana Azmi
Shabana Azmi, image credit: NewsNation

Born - September 18, 1950 in Hyderabad, India

Occupation - Actress, Politician

Nationality - Indian

Years Active - 1974-present

Height - 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Spouse(s) - Javed Akhtar (m. 1984-present)

Shabana Azmi (born 18 September 1950) is an actress of film, television and theatre. Regarded as one of the finest actresses in India, Azmi's performances in films in a variety of genres have generally earned her praise and awards, which include a record of five wins of the National Film Award for Best Actress and several international honours. She has also received five Filmfare Awards, and was honored among "women in cinema" at the 30th International Film Festival of India. In 1988, the Government of India awarded her with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour of the country.

Azmi has appeared in over 120 Hindi and Bengali films in both mainstream and independent cinema, and since 1988 she has acted in several foreign projects. Several of her films have been cited as a form of progressivism which portrays Indian society, its customs and traditions. In addition to acting, Azmi is a social and women's rights activist. She is a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). In appreciation of Azmi's life and works, the President of India gave her a nominated (unelected) membership of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament.

Shabana Azmi was born into a Saiyyid Muslim family, in Hyderabad, India. Her parents are Kaifi Azmi (an Indian poet) and Shaukat Azmi (a veteran Indian People's Theatre Association stage actress), both of whom were members of the Communist Party of India. Her brother, Baba Azmi, is a cinematographer, and her sister-in-law, Tanvi Azmi, is also an actress. Shabana was named at the age of eleven by Ali Sardar Jafri. Her parents used to call her Munni.

Azmi attended Queen Mary School, Mumbai. 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.

Azmi graduated from the FTII in 1973 and signed on to 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. The film went on to become a major critical success, and Azmi won the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performances.

She went on to receive the National Film Award consecutively for three years from 1983 to 1985 for her roles in "Arth", "Khandhar" and "Paar". "Godmother" (1999) earned her another National Film Award, taking her tally to five.

Azmi’s acting has been characterised 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. 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.

She was the initial choice for Deepa Mehta's "Water", which was planned to hit the floors in 2000. A few scenes were already shot. Azmi had to shave her head with Nandita Das to portray the character of Shakuntala. However, due to political reasons, the film was shelved and later shot in 2005 with Seema Biswas replacing Azmi.

Some of her notable films are Shyam Benegal's "Nishant" (1975), "Junoon" (1978), "Susman" (1986), and "Antarnaad" (1992); Satyajit Ray's "Shatranj Ke Khilari"; 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"; and 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 has participated in many stage plays: notable among them include M. S. Sathyu's 'Safed Kundali' (1980), based on 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle'; and Feroz Abbas Khan's 'Tumhari Amrita' 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. She toured the UK, Dubai and India with British production Happy Birthday Sunita by Theatre Company Rifco Arts in 2014.

Shabana Azmi was engaged to Benjamin Gilani in late 1970s, but the engagement was called off. Later, she married Javed Akhtar, a lyricist, poet and Bollywood scriptwriter, on 9 December 1984, making her a member of the Akhtar-Azmi film family. It was Akhtar’s second marriage, the first being with Bollywood scriptwriter, Honey Irani. However Shabana's parents objected to her being involved with a very much married man with 2 children (Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar). Indian actresses Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces and Tanvi Azmi is her sister-in-law.

Azmi has been a committed social activist, active in supporting child survival and fighting AIDS and injustice in real life.

She has 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 the grand mufti of Jama Masjid calling upon the Muslims of India to join the people of Afghanistan in their fight by retorting that the leader go there alone.

She has campaigned against ostracism of victims of AIDS. She has also given her voice to an HIV/AIDS education animated software tutorial created by the nonprofit organisation 'TeachAIDS'.

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. In 1998, the United Nations Population Fund appointed her as its Goodwill Ambassador for India.



Year Film Role Notes
 1974   Ankur  Laxmi  Dakhani (Urdu) film
1974  Faslah  Asha Premchand  
1974  Ishq Ishq Ishq  Pammy  
1974  Parinay    
1976  Fakira  Geeta/Neeta C I D Police
1976  Kadambari  Chetna  
1976  Nishant  Sushila  
1976  Shaque  Meena Joshi  
1977  Adha Din Adhi Raat    remake of telugu film
 "Manavudu Danavudu"
1977  Amar Akbar Anthony  Laxmi  
1977  Chor Sipahee  Priya  
1977  Ek Hi Raasta  Ketki  
1977  Hira Aur Patthar  Gauri  
1977  Jallian Wala Bagh    
1977  Kanneshwara Rama  Malli  Kannada film
1977  Karm    
1977  Khel Khilari Ka  Rachna  
1977  Kissa Kursi Ka  Janta  
1977  Parvarish  Shabbo  
1977  Shatranj Ke Khiladi  Khurshid  
1977  Swami  Saudamini  
1977  Vishwasghaat  Seema  
1978  Atithee  Leela M. Kumar / Julie  
1978  Devata  Mary  
1978  Junoon  Firdaus  
1978  Khoon Ki Pukaar  Shano  
1978  Swami  Saudamini  
1978  Swarg Narak  Geeta  
1978  Toote Khilone    
1979  Amar Deep  Radha  
1979  Bagula Bhagat    
1979  Jeena Yahan    
1979  Lahoo Ke Do Rang  Roma  
1980  Albert Pinto Ko Gussa
 Kyoon Aata Hai
 Stella D'Costa  
1980  Apne Paraye  Sheila  
1980  Ek Baar Kaho  Aarti Mathur  
1980  Hum Paanch  Sundariya  
1980  Sparsh  Kavita  
1980  Thodisi Bewafaii  Neema Chowdhary  
1980  Jwalamukhi  Kiran  
1980  Yeh Kaisa Insaaf  Madhu R. Nath  
1981  Ek Hi Bhool  Meenakshi  Guest appearance
1981  Sameera  Rama  
1982  Arth  Mrs. Pooja Inder Malhotra  
1982  Ashanti  Kamini  
1982  Namkeen  Mithu  
1982  Yeh Nazdeekiyan  Shobhna  
1982  Raaste Pyar Ke  Shyama  
1982  Anokha Bandan  Annapurna (Anu)  
1982  Ashanti  Kamini  
1983  Avtaar  Radha  
1983  Doosri Dulhan    
1983  Log Kya Kahenge    
1983  Mandi  Rukmini Bai  
1983  Masoom  Indu D. Malhotra  
1983  Sweekar Kiya Maine  Gopika K. Shukla  
1983  Pyaasi Aankhen    
1984  Aaj Ka M.L.A. Ram Avtar    remake of telugu film "MLA
1984  Bhavna  Bhavna  
1984  Gangvaa    
1984  Kaamyab  Sita  
1984  Khandhar  Jamini  Bengali film
1984  Lorie  Geeta Malhotra  
1984  Hum Rahe Na Hum  Mohini P. Sahani  
1984  Ram Tera Desh  Advocate Ratna Pathak  
1984  Yaadon Ki Zanjeer    
1985  Kamla  Sarita Jadhav  
1985  Khamosh  Shabana  
1985  Paar  Rama  
1985  Ram Tere Kitne Nam    
1985  Rahi Badal Gaye  Bhavna  
1986  Anjuman  Anjuman  
1986  Genesis  The Woman  
1986  Nasihat    
1986  Shart  Kiran Dutt  
1986  Ek Pal  Priyam  
1986  Samay Ki Dharaa  Madhvi A. Verma/Madhvi
 V. Kapoor
1987  Itihaas  Sunaina  
1987  Pestonjee  Jeroo  
1987  Susman  Gauramma  
1988  Bada Din  Lilian  
1988  Ek Aadmi    
1988  Libaas    
1988  Madame Sousatzka  Sushila  English film
1988  The Bengali Night  Indira Sen  French film
1988  Mardon Wali Baat  Seema  
1989  Ek Din Achanak  Neeta  
1989  Main Azaad Hoon  Subhashini Saigal  
1989  Oonch Neech Beech    
1989  Sati  Uma  Bengali film
1989  Rakhwala  Kiran  
1990  Amba  Amba Bhanupratap Singh  
1990  Disha    
1990  Ek Doctor Ki Maut  Seema  
1990  Muqaddar Ka Badshaah  Advocate Sharda Singh  
1991  Antarnaad    
1991  Dharavi    
1991  Fateh  Shabana  
1991  Jhoothi Shaan  Krishna  
1992  Adharm  Mamta Verma  
1992  City of Joy  Kamla Pal  English film
1992  Immaculate Conception  Samira  English film
1992  Patang  Jitni  
1993  In Custody  Imtiaz Begum  
1993  Son of the Pink Panther  Queen  English film
1996  Fire  Radha  
1997  Mrityudand  Chandravati  
1997  Saaz  Bansidhar (Bansi
1998  Earth  voice of older Lenny  
1998  Side Streets  Mrs. Chandra Bipin Raj  English film
1999  Godmother  Rambhi  
2000  Gaja Gamini  Premchand's Nirmala  
2000  Hari-Bhari  Ghazala  
2001  Daughters of This Century  Kadambini  
2002  Devi Ahilya Bai  Harku Bai  
2002  Makdee  Makdee  
2002  Meghla Akash  Doctor  Bengali fim, Special Appearance
2003  Tehzeeb  Rukhsana Jamal  
2004  Morning Raga  Swarnlatha  English languge
2005  15 Park Avenue  Anjali "Anju" Mathur  English languge
2005  Odakalu Bimba  Manjula Sharma  Kannada film
2005  Waterborne  Heera Bhatti  English film
2006  Banglatown Banquet  Sofia  English film
2006  Umrao Jaan  Khannum Jaan  
2007  Positive  Mrs Soni  
2007  Dus Kahaniyaan    Short story 'Rice Plate'
2007  Om Shanti Om  Herself  Special appearance in song
 'Deewangi Deewangi'
2007  Honeymoon Travels  Pvt. Ltd.  Nahid  
2007  Loins of Punjab Presents  Rita Kapoor  
2007  Raagam    Telugu Movie
2008  Sorry Bhai!  Mother Gayatri  
2010  It's a Wonderful Afterlife  Mrs. Sethi  English film
2012  Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola  Chaudhari Devi  
2012  Midnight's Children  Naseem  English film
2013  The Reluctant
 Ammi  English/Urdu film
2014  A Decent Arrangement  Preeti Mehta  English language
2015  Jazbaa  Garima  
2016  Chalk n Duster  Vidya  
2016  Neerja  Rama  
2017  The Wishing Tree (2017)  Gypsy Woman  
2017  The Black Prince  Maharani Jind Kaur  


  • 2013: '24' (Indian TV series) - Abhilasha Grewal
  • 2016: 'Ek Maa Jo Laakhon Ke liye Bani' - Amma

Awards and Honours

National Awards

Azmi has received the National Film Award for Best Actress five times, making her the overall most-awarded actor in the function:

  • 1975 – National Film Award for Best Actress for "Ankur"
  • 1983 – National Film Award for Best Actress for "Arth"
  • 1984 – National Film Award for Best Actress for "Khandhar"
  • 1985 – National Film Award for Best Actress for "Paar"
  • 1999 – National Film Award for Best Actress for "Godmother"

Filmfare Awards


  • 1978 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Swami"
  • 1984 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Arth"
  • 1985 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Bhavna"
  • 2006 – Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2017 - Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for "Neerja"


  • 1975 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Ankur"
  • 1981 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Thodisi Bewafaii"
  • 1984 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Masoom"
  • 1984 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Avtaar"
  • 1984 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Mandi"
  • 1985 – Filmfare Best Actress Award for "Sparsh"
  • 2003 – Filmfare Best Villain Award for "Makdee"
  • 2004 – Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award for "Tehzeeb

International awards

  • 1993: Best Actress award for "Libaas" in North Korea
  • 1994: Best Actress award for Gautam Ghose’s "Patang" at the Taorima Arte Festival in Italy
  • 1996: Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress for "Fire" at the Chicago International Film Festival
  • 1996: Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film, for "Fire" in L.A. Outfest

Other awards

  • Azmi won the award for Best Actress (Hindi) at the Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards (BFJA) for "Ankur" in 1975, "Paar" in 1984, "Ek Pal" in 1987, and "Godmother" in 1999. She won the Best Supporting Actress (Hindi) award for "Tehzeeb" in 2003
  • 1998: Star Screen Award Best Supporting Actress for "Mrityudand"
  • 2004: Zee Cine Award Best Actor in a Supporting Role- Female for "Tehzeeb"
  • 2005: Star Screen Awards – Best Performance in an Indian Film in English for "Morning Raga"

Honours and Recognitions

  • 1988: Awarded the Padma Shri from the Government of India
  • 1988: Yash Bhartiya Award by the Government of Uttar Pradesh for highlighting women’s issues in her work as an actress and activist
  • 1994: Rajiv Gandhi Award for "Excellence of Secularism"
  • 1999: Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image, Significant Contribution to Indian Cinema
  • 2002: Martin Luther King Professorship award by the University of Michigan conferred on her in recognition of her contribution to arts, culture and society
  • 2003: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the Jadavpur University in West Bengal in 2003
  • 2006: Gandhi International Peace Award, awarded by Gandhi Foundation, London
  • 2007: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Art by Chancellor of the University Brandan Foster by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Yorkshire
  • 2008: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by the Jamia Milia Islamia on Delhi in 2008
  • 2009: She was honoured with the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award
  • 2012: Awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India
  • 2012: She was honoured by Walk of the Stars as her hand print was preserved for posterity at Bandra Bandstand in Mumbai
  • 2013: Awarded the Honorary Fellowship by the National Indian Students Union UK
  • 2013: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by Simon Fraser University
  • 2014: She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate by TERI University on 5 February 2014

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