Acclaimed Indian Actress and Activist
Hijri 1370–Present (AH); Common Era 1950–Present (CE)
One of the most recognizable names in Bollywood, Shabana Azmi is a five-time National Film Award for Best Actress winner and still holds clout despite 30-odd years in the business. Hailing from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Azmi is the daughter of famed Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi and actress Shaukat. Azmi has a tendency to take challenging parts with women who strive to change within their social circumstances. Her 1996 film Fire (part of Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy which also includes Earth and Water) tells the story of a neglected wife (Azmi) who falls in love with her sister-in-law (Nandita Das). The film caused widespread controversy due to its address of lesbianism in mainstream middle class Indian life but nonetheless won acclaim for its sensitive portrayal of female struggles. Her interest in addressing women’s and humanitarian issues in her films extends to her real life as well. A former MP of the Indian Parliament, Azmi became known as a staunch defender of the disadvantaged, fighting for the rights of minorities, slum dwellers, AIDS patients, and women. In her role as an MP she consistently defended liberal values and freedom of expression. In 1993, Azmi was horrified by the riots and violence between Hindus and Muslims and became a critic of religious extremism in its many forms. In a post-9/11 world, Azmi publicly condemned militant Islam—which inspired other moderate Muslims to speak up and advise peace.