The very best of Shabana Azmi
Flattering remarks like 'One of the best actresses of Hindi cinema' are casually attributed to anyone with a reasonably successful career. But only the likes of Shabana Azmi are truly deserving of such high praise.
Astute, articulate and an awe-inspiring chameleon in front of the camera, the actress has emerged one of the most influential icons of Hindi cinema -- art or commercial -- with her enviable resume of path-breaking films, inspiring performances and charitable efforts.
On September 18, Azmi turns 60. rediff.com celebrates the star and ten of her best works.
Ankur marked the beginning of a fine collaboration between Benegal and Shabana Azmi. Together they went on to make memorable films like Mandi, Nishant and Junoon.
High on graphic aggression and psychological torment, Ankur told an uncompromising tale of feudal exploitation and double-standards through the medium of Azmi's 'used and abused' Laxmi.
An electrifying, no-holds barred debut, Ankur won her well-deserved National Award for Best Actress.
Image: A scene from Ankur
Shatranj Ke Khiladi, 1977
Lengthwise, it's not that big a role but Azmi is superlative as the lovely yet neglected and petulant Begum of her chess-obsessed significant other (played by Sanjeev Kumar) in celebrated filmmaker Satyajit Ray's reworking of Munshi Premchand's short story.
Inherently sophisticated, the actress is subtle but steady in her approach to get her disinterested husband to realize her unable-to-suppress desires.
Image: A scene from Shatranj Ke Khiladi
In Shyam Benegal's compelling drama based on a short Urdu story by Pakistani author Ghulam Abbas, Azmi plays a self-seeking, unrefined madam running a brothel evoking the wrath of the existing moral police.
Her relationship with the fellow members of her tribe as well her exploitations are conveyed with such racy audacity and spunky Hyderabadi intonations, it's impossible to stay unimpressed.
Image: A scene from Mandi
Not many films can boast of this level of sensitivity and restraint. Sai Paranjpye's Sparsh, however, is a glorious exception.
Although Naseeruddin Shah, playing a blind school principal, has the obviously tougher part, Shabana Azmi provides the perfect foil to his apprehensions by essaying her benevolent and concerned Kavita without being overtly schmaltzy.
Image: A scene from Sparsh
Most actors have the tendency to play victim by exaggerating their response to a betrayal. Not Shabana Azmi.
In complete contrast to colleague Smita Patil's fiercely neurotic avatar, Azmi portrays a deeply wounded and humiliated wife of an unfaithful husband unprepared to face a looming divorce or the reality of being dumped for another with hard-hitting vulnerability and grace in Mahesh Bhatt's critically-acclaimed Arth.
Image: A scene from Arth
There's more complexity to Masoom's Indu than meets the eye.
Shabana Azmi's credibility is for all to see as she effortlessly infuses layers in the bittersweet characterization of a betrayed wife and hands-on mother.
Brilliant that she is, the actress alternates between relatable; when understandably cross, clammed-up and extraordinary by displaying tremendous capacity for forgiveness and acceptance.
Image: A scene from Masoom
One of Azmi's most controversial roles to date, her homosexual turn in Deepa Mehta's Fire invited the ire of protesting Hindu activists.
Disruptions aside, the actress showcased an unexplored facet of her confidence and personality by playing an initially submissive, lonely housewife who moves on to explore her sexuality in socially forbidden ways by embarking on an affair with her brother-in-law's young wife.
Image: A poster of Fire
Vinay Shukla's Godmother, said to be inspired by the real-life story of Santokben Jadeja, fetched Shabana Azmi her fifth National award following Ankur, Arth, Khandar and Paar.
Known for her forthright disposition and piercing intensity, the actress employs her true essence to convey the steely grit and persistence of her on-screen alter ego.
Image: A scene from Godmother
Vishal Bharadwaj's directorial debut Makdee sees the actress in a never-before-seen avatar.
As the hideous looking witch sporting pale, crumpled skin and ghastly make-up in a children's film, Azmi is at once terrifying and intimidating.
The get-up, which took hours of application, proved to be rather cumbersome but gratifying after her performance met with compliments galore.
Image: A scene from Makdee
Morning Raga, 2004
Coping with past horrors to enjoy a new, improved present through the fusion of traditional and modern music forms the metaphorical crux of Mahesh Dattani's Morning Raga.
A thorough perfectionist, Shabana took lessons in Carnatic music to grab the finer nuances for her portrayal of a singer.
Though the film met with mixed responses, everyone came out singing praises of her emotionally fragile Swarnlatha.
Image: A scene from Morning Raga