Shabana Azmi (born 18 September 1950) is an Indian actress of film, television and theatre. Her career in the Hindi film industry has spanned over 160 films, mostly within independent and neorealist parallel cinema, though her work extended to mainstream films as well as a number of international projects. One of India's most acclaimed actresses, Azmi is known for her portrayals of distinctive, often unconventional female characters across several genres.[1] She has won a record of five National Film Awards for Best Actress,[2][3] in addition to six Filmfare Awards and several international accolades. The Government of India honoured her with the Padma Shri in 1998 and the Padma Bhushan in 2012.

Shabana Azmi
Azmi at the SFU in October 2009
Shabana Kaifi Azmi

(1950-09-18) 18 September 1950 (age 73)
  • Actress
  • social activist
(m. 1984)
FamilyAkhtar-Azmi family
AwardsPadma Bhushan (2012)
Member of Parliament
In office
27 August 1997 – 26 August 2003

The daughter of poet Kaifi Azmi and stage actress Shaukat Azmi, she is an alumna of Film and Television Institute of India of Pune. Azmi made her film debut in 1974 with Ankur and soon became one of the leading actresses of parallel cinema, then a new-wave movement of art films known for their serious content and realism and sometimes received government patronage.[2][4] Several of her films have been cited as a form of progressivism and social reformism which offer a realistic portrayal of Indian society, its customs and traditions.

In addition to acting, Azmi is a social and women's rights activist. She is married to poet and screenwriter Javed Akhtar.[5] 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.[6]

Early life and background


Azmi was born into a Shia family, in Hyderabad, India.[7] Her parents are Kaifi Azmi (an Indian poet) and Shaukat Azmi (a veteran Indian People's Theatre Association stage actress),[6] 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. Azmi was named at the age of eleven by Ali Sardar Jafri. Her parents used to call her Munni. Baba Azmi was named by Prof. Masood Siddiqui as Ahmer Azmi. Her parents had an active social life, and their home was always thriving with people and activities of the communist party. It was not unusual for her to wake up in the morning and find members of the communist party sleeping about, from a previous night's communist social that ran late. 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.[8][9][10]

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.[6] She explained the reason she decided to attend the film institute, saying: "I had the privilege of watching Jaya Bhaduri in a (Diploma) film, Suman, and I was completely enchanted by her performance because it was unlike the other performances I had seen. I really marvelled at that and said, 'My god, if by going to the Film Institute I can achieve that, that's what I want to do.'" Azmi eventually topped the list of successful candidates of 1972.[11]



Shabana Azmi does not immediately fit into her rustic surroundings; but her poise and her personality are never in doubt, and in two high-pitched scenes she pulls out all her stops and firmly establishes herself as one of our finest dramatic actresses."

Satyajit Ray on Azmi's performance in Ankur (1975)[12]

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 art-house genre of neo-realistic films, Ankur is based on a true story which occurred in Hyderabad. Azmi played Lakshmi, a married servant and villager who drifts into an affair with a college student who visits the countryside. Azmi was not the original choice for the film, and several leading actresses of that time refused to do it. The film went on to become a major critical success, and Azmi won her first National Film Award for Best Actress and her first nomination for the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her performance. Qurratulain Hyder wrote that Azmi lives her role and acts like a seasoned dramatic actress in her first film.[13]

She went on to receive the National Film Award for Best Actress consecutively for three years from 1983 to 1985 for her roles in Arth, Khandhar and Paar. Godmother (1999) earned her a record-setting fifth 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 (1983), 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 films. These included the role of a woman named Jamini resigned to her destiny in Khandhar and a typical urban Indian wife, mother and homemaker in Masoom (1983).

She mainly acted in experimental and parallel Indian cinema. Deepa Mehta's Fire (1996) depicts her as a lonely woman, Radha, in love with her sister-in-law. The on-screen depiction of lesbianism (perhaps the first in Indian cinema) drew severe protests and threats from many social groups as well as by the 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.[6] She was the initial choice for Deepa Mehta's Water (2005), 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.[14]

Some of her notable films are Shyam Benegal's Nishant (1975), Junoon (1978), Susman (1978), and Antarnaad (1992); Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players); 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 portrayed a modern Indian woman who, while endorsing traditional Indian ethos and values, negotiated more freedom for herself. 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. Pointing out the differences in all these media, she once remarked that theatre was really the actor's medium; the stage was the actor's space; cinema was the director's medium; and television was a writer's medium.[citation needed]

Personal life

Shabana Azmi with Javed Akhtar, in 2012.

Azmi was engaged to Benjamin Gilani in late 1970s, but the engagement was called off.[15] Later, she married Javed Akhtar, a lyricist, poet and scriptwriter in Hindi films, on 9 December 1984, making her a member of the Akhtar-Azmi film family.[16] It was Javed Akhtar's second marriage, the first being with another Hindi film scriptwriter, Honey Irani. However Azmi's parents objected to her being involved with a married man with 2 children (Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar).[17][18] Indian actresses Farah Naaz and Tabu are her nieces and Tanvi Azmi is her sister-in-law.

Off-screen work

Azmi at the 2006 World Economic Forum

Azmi has been a committed social activist, active in supporting child survival and fighting AIDS and injustice in real life.[19][20]

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. In 1995, she reflected on her life as an activist in an interview in Rungh.[21] 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.[22]

She has campaigned against ostracism of victims of AIDS.[19] A small film clip issued by the Government of India depicts an HIV positive child cuddled in her arms and saying: "She does not need your rejection, she needs your love". In a Bengali film named Meghla Akash, directed by Nargis Akter, she played the role of a physician treating AIDS patients.

She has also given her voice to an HIV/AIDS education animated software tutorial created by the nonprofit organisation TeachAids.[23]

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.[19]

In 2019 Indian general election, she actively campaigned for Kanhaiya Kumar who contested from Begusarai, Bihar on a Communist Party of India (CPI) ticket.[24]



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 and Scandinavian countries, including at the Norwegian Film Institute, the Smithsonian Institution and the American Film Institute. She has appeared in a number of foreign films, most of which 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 Edwards' Son of the Pink Panther, and Ismail Merchant's In Custody.



Major associations and honours

President Pratibha Patil giving Azmi the Padma Bhushan in 2012

Civilian award

National Film Awards

Azmi has received the National Film Award for Best Actress five times, making her the overall most-awarded actor in the function:[6]

Year Category Movie Result
1975 Best Actress Ankur Won
1983 Arth Won
1984 Khandhar Won
1985 Paar Won
1999 Godmother Won

Filmfare Awards

Year Category Movie Result
1975 Best Actress Ankur Nominated
1978 Swami Won
1981 Thodisi Bewafaii Nominated
1984 Arth Won
Masoom Nominated
Avtaar Nominated
Mandi Nominated
1985 Bhavna Won
Sparsh Nominated
2003 Best Villain Makdee Nominated
2004 Best Supporting Actress Tehzeeb Nominated
2006 Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2017 Best Supporting Actress Neerja Won
2024 Ghoomer Nominated
Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani Won

International awards

Year Award/Country Category Movie Result
1993 North Korea Best Actress Libaas Won
1994 Taormina Arte Festival in Italy Patang Won
1996 Chicago International Film Festival Silver Hugo Award for Best Actress Fire Won
1996 L.A. Outfest Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film Won

Miscellaneous awards and honours

Year Award Category Movie Result
1975 Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards Best Actress (Hindi) Ankur Won
1984 Paar Won
1987 Ek Pal Won
1998 Screen Awards Best Supporting Actress Mrityudand Won
1999 Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards Best Actress (Hindi) Godmother Won
2003 Best Supporting Actress (Hindi) Tehzeeb Won
2004 Zee Cine Awards Best Supporting Actress Won
2005 Screen Awards Best Performance in an Indian Film in English Morning Raga Won
  • 1999: Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image, Significant Contribution to Indian Cinema.[26]
  • 2002: Martin Luther King Professorship award by the University of Michigan conferred on her in recognition of her contribution to arts, culture and society.
  • 2006: Gandhi International Peace Award, awarded by Gandhi Foundation, London.[27]
  • 2007: ANR National Award by the Akkineni International Foundation[28]
  • 2009: She was honoured with the World Economic Forum's Crystal Award[29]
  • 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[30]
  • 2018: Power Brands awarded Shabana Azmi the Bharatiya Manavata Vikas Puraskar for being one of the greatest and most versatile thespians of Indian cinema, for being a champion of women's education and a consistent advocate for civil and human rights, equality and peace and for empowering lives every day through the Mijwan Welfare Society.[31]

National awards

  • 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"

Honorary doctorates

  • 2003: She was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the Jadavpur University in West Bengal in 2003.[32]
  • 2007: She was conferred with an honorary doctorate in art by Chancellor of the University Brandan Foster by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Yorkshire[33]
  • 2008: She was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the Jamia Milia Islamia on Delhi in 2008.[32]
  • 2013: She was conferred with an honorary doctorate by Simon Fraser University.[34]
  • 2014: She was conferred with an honorary doctorate by TERI University on 5 February 2014.[35]


  1. ^ "Shabana Azmi | FCCI". Journal of Indian Cinema. 18 September 2020. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b PTI (22 July 2005). "Parallel cinema seeing changes: Azmi". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2009.
  3. ^ Nagarajan, Saraswathy (18 December 2004). "Coffee break with Shabana Azmi". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Archived from the original on 31 December 2004. Retrieved 31 January 2009.
  4. ^ K., Bhumika (21 January 2006). "Shabana's soap opera". The Hindu. Chennai, India. Archived from the original on 11 January 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2009.
  5. ^ Edward A. Gargan (17 January 1993). "In 'Bollywood,' Women Are Wronged or Revered". New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c d e Gulzar; Nihalani, Govind; Chatterjee, Saibal (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi cinema. Popular Prakashan. p. 524. ISBN 978-81-7991-066-5.
  7. ^ "Shabana Azmi presented Akkineni award". The Hindu. 14 January 2007. Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  8. ^ Kaifi Azmi (28 May 1997). "Kaifi Azmi". Outlook. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  9. ^ Shabana Azmi (2 October 2010). "To Abba... with love". Screen. Archived from the original on 19 December 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  10. ^ "A conversation with actress and social activist Shabana Azmi". Charlie Rose. 6 March 2006. Archived from the original on 7 July 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  11. ^ "Indo-American Arts Council, Inc". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  12. ^ Ray, Satyajit (1976). Our Films, Their Films. Orient Longman. p. 103.
  13. ^ Hyder, Qurratulain (14 July 1974). "Ankur Is First Rate" (PDF). The Illustrated Weekly of India. Retrieved 24 January 2023.
  14. ^ Yuen-Carrucan, Jasmine (1 April 2000). "The Politics of Deepa Mehta's Water". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  15. ^ "Actor and rebel: Shabana Azmi". Retrieved 14 June 2019.
  16. ^ "THE DYNAMIC DYNASTIES: What would the world of films be without them?". Screen. 22 September 2000. Archived from the original on 10 February 2010.
  17. ^ Ali Peter John (8 December 2000). "Javed Akhtar: It's not so easy". Screen. Retrieved 5 March 2010.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "For Abba with Love by Shabana Azmi". Kaifiyat. Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  19. ^ a b c "Biographies: A-F". United Nations. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  20. ^ "World population crosses 6 billion". The Tribune. Tribune News Service. 12 October 1999. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  21. ^ Merchant, Ameen (1995). "Being Shabana Azmi". Rungh - A South Asian Quarterly of Culture, Comment and Criticism. 3. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Rungh Cultural Society: 5–9. ISSN 1188-9950.
  22. ^ Rasheeda Bhagat (14 November 2001). "The Indian Muslims trial by fire". The Hindu Business Line. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  23. ^ "Animated film to educate students on HIV". The Times of India. 26 November 2010. Archived from the original on 6 August 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  24. ^ Rohit Kumar Singh (26 April 2019). "Shabana Azmi seek votes for Kanhaiya Kumar, attacks BJP". India Today. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  25. ^ "Padma Awards". pib. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  26. ^ "Archives 1999". Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image. Retrieved 8 October 2011.
  27. ^ "2006 Peace Award: Shabana Azmi". Gandhi Foundation. 14 November 2006. Archived from the original on 21 February 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2009.
  28. ^ "ANR National Award for Rajamouli". The Hindu. 9 September 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  29. ^ "WEF honours Amitabh with Crystal Award". The Financial Express. 2 February 2009. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  30. ^ "Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar get UK fellowship - Indian Express". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  31. ^ PTI (30 August 2018). "Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das receive Bharatiya Manavata Vikas Puraskar". Business Standard. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  32. ^ a b Arif Roomy (21 March 2013). "Shabana proud of her hubby Dr. Javed Akhtar". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 April 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  33. ^ Amit Roy (11 June 2007). "Amit degree in Gandhi hall". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  34. ^ "Activist Shabana Azmi Receives Honorary Degree - Office of the Vice-President, Research - Simon Fraser University". Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  35. ^ "TERI university honours Shabana Azmi, Anshu Jain". Business Standard. Press Trust of India. 5 February 2014. Retrieved 5 February 2014.


  • India's 50 Most Illustrious Women (ISBN 81-88086-19-3) by Indra Gupta
  • Holt, Julia; Phalke, Shubhra; Basic Skills Agency. Shabana Azmi. London : Basic Skills Agency, 1995. ISBN 1-85990-022-4.