An actress par excellence, Shabana Azmi has starred in some of the greatest Indian films like Ankur, Mandi, Arth, Khandar, Paar, Sparsh, Godmother and Tehzeeb to name a few. Satyajit Ray, the noted film maker, says in his book, “Our Films Their Films”, “Shabana Azmi in her very first film, ‘ANKUR’, firmly establishes herself as the finest dramatic actress of the country.”
Born to noted Urdu progressive poet and IPTA President Kaifi Azmi and theatre actress Shaukat Kaifi, Shabana has acted in films by virtually all of India's most famous arthouse directors, including Shyam Benegal, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen and others, as well as in commercial and middle-of-the-road Hindi films, and some international films where she has essayed several strong female characters.
She has also acted on stage to considerable acclaim, in plays like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal for Singapore Repertory Theatre – 2005, Tanika Gupta’s The Waiting Room for The National Theatre London – 2002, Ibsen’s The Dolls House for Singapore Repertory Theatre – 1997, Urdu adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle for IPTA – 1980 and most notably in Tumhari Amrita, the Urdu adaptation of A.R.Gurney’s Love Letters – 1992 - 2006.
Shabana Azmi has won the National Award for Best Actress five times, including 3 times in a row from 1983-85 for the landmark films Arth, Khandar and Paar. She has also won innumerable awards for acting including the Filmfare award for Best Actress three times and the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Internationally she is one of the most respected faces of Indian cinema and has won awards at festivals like Toronto Reel World International Film Festival, IIFA (Life Time Achievement 2005) and Chicago International Film Festival among others.
She is noted for her naturalness and intensity on-screen, matched by her fierce advocacy for the rights of women, minorities, and displaced slum-dwellers off-screen, both through activism and in her role as a Member of Parliament (1997-2003), with her consistent stand in defense of liberal values and the freedom of expression. She has also been involved with issues concerning development, reproductive health, housing for the economically weaker sections, public health and HIV AIDS. She has fought relentlessly against religious fundamentalism of all hues and is highly respected as a moderate, liberal Muslim voice.
In 2006 Shabana Azmi became the first Indian to receive the prestigious International Gandhi Peace Prize for her two-decade struggle for slum dwellers through her movement 'Nivara Hakk' in Mumbai. She received the prestigious Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum – Davos 2006 for achieving outstanding excellence in the field of culture and having used art to reach out to other cultures. She has also been conferred with the Padmashri by the President of India in 1988. Recently she was conferred with the `Akkineni Nageswara Rao Award', for her service to Indian cinema.
Having worked in over 140 films as well as in theatre, Shabana Azmi believes Art should be used as an instrument for social change.
She is married to Javed Akhtar, Urdu poet, film lyricist and the one of the finest script writers in Hindi cinema.