Shabana Azmi: A renaissance artist on her life and career

Dec 16, 2020
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Shabana Azmi began her career in 1974 winning the National Film Award for Best Actress in her very first film, Shyam Benegal’s much-cherished ‘Ankur’

Shabana Azmi began her career in 1974 winning the National Film Award for Best Actress in her very first film, Shyam Benegal’s much-cherished ‘Ankur’. Barely three years later she was working with the great master Satyajit Ray who described her performance in ‘Ankur’ as having established herself as one of the “finest dramatic actresses in the country.” With a praise like that from a world master meant that she was on a trajectory toward cinematic immortality.

Today, over four and half decades, four more National Awards for Best Actress, a slate of international films as well as Hindi films totaling more than 160, Azmi, at 70, continues to explore new artistic vistas. During this interview she was in Budapest in Hungary where she was shooting for ‘Halo’, a TV series version of the popular video game of the same name, executive produced by Steven Spielberg. She plays the character of Admiral Margaret Parangosky.

At a time when Hindi cinema is in the midst of what is widely believed to be an extraordinary thematic and artistic resurgence, Shabana Azmi remains one of the earliest pioneers of that genre of Hindi movies along with Naseeruddin Shah as well as the late Om Puri and Smita Patil.

Born to intellectually refined, left-liberal parents Shaukat Azmi, a greatly respected theater and movie artist, and Kaifi Azmi, a giant of Urdu progressive poetry and one of Hindi cinema’s greatest lyricists, Azmi grew up in a communist commune. She describes hers as “an extremely beautiful childhood”. “For us what was beautiful was a celebration of India’s pluralism; the fact that we will celebrate all festivals, Holi, Diwali, Eid, Christmas with gay abandon,” she reminisces in a wide-ranging conversation from Budapest with this writer on Bharat FM.

She was exposed to some of the biggest literary and artistic names of the mid 1950s and 1960s. With that as her grounding it was inevitable that she would pursue ideas beyond cinema. She went on to be nominated a member of the Indian parliament (Rajya Sabha) in 1997 for a five-year term and remains a socially and culturally influential voice within India and around the world.

Now hear the full interview/conversation with Shabana Azmi:

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