Shabana Azmi (born 18 September 1950) is an Indian actress of film, television and theatre. 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 and soon became one of the leading actresses of Parallel Cinema, a new-wave movement known for its serious content and neo-realism and received government patronage during the times. 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 the wife of poet and screenwriter Javed Akhtar.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.
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. 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 the National Film Award for Best Actress for her performances. Upperstall.comdescribed her work in the film as "an outstanding psychologically penetrating performance very different from those seen normally till then in mainstream Hindi cinema". Famous independent filmmaker Satyajit Ray commented "In Ankur she may not have fitted immediately into her rustic surroundings, but her poise and personality are never in doubt. In two high pitched scenes, she pulls out the stops to firmly establish herself as one of our finest dramatic actresses".