Shabana Azmi, along with Smita Patil, held centre-stage in both parallel and commercial cinema, infusing neo-realism in films which have survived even today. Shabana was inspired after watching Jaya Bachchan in a diploma film and decided to learn acting at the Film and Television Institute of India.
She has experimented in a variety of genres and done exceedingly well, winning many awards in her distinguished career. Shabana is considered among the best actresses in Indian cinema.
Here are five Shabana Azmi films that you should not miss:
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Anant Nag, Sadhu Meher, Priya Tendulkar
Director: Shyam Benegal
Three important people made their debut in this film – Shabana Azmi, Anant Nag and Shyam Benegal. All three went on to make their mark in Indian cinema.
A couple, Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi) and her husband, a deaf mute, find work in a village with a landlord. Lakshmi wants a child desperately but doesn’t get one despite praying hard for it.
Then the landlord’s son returns to the village and he is instantly enamoured by Lakshmi. He tries to flirt with her but she resists. However, her husband, a drunk, is caught for robbery and this clears the field for the landlord’s son. This is an intense film based on a real story and stresses heavily on characterisation and human relationships.
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Amrish Puri, Neena Gupta, Ratna Pathak Shah, Soni Razdan, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapur
Director: Shyam Benegal
A brothel is the setting of a drama involving a beautiful girl Zeenat (Smita Patil) who is protected by the ageing ‘madame’ of the establishment Rukmini (Shabana Azmi).
The brothel owner’s son falls in love with Zeenat and his love is reciprocated. However, Rukmini reveals that Zeenat is actually a daughter of the brothel owner through another liaison.
This complicates the issue. Activists later force the brothel to move out of the city. Rukmini is also told to leave the brothel as the girls there feel they can run it. A great film and one can’t go wrong with the combination of Benegal, Shabana and Smita.
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Javed Jaffrey
Director: Deepa Mehta
The second part of Mehta’s trilogy of the elements, the fim deals with the touch subject of lesbianism. It evoked strong protests upon release.
Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das) are frustrated by their marriages but bear with it in a joint family. Radha’s husband has become a celebate under the influence of a swami who says sex is for producing children and she cannot have one.
Sita is ignored by her husband who is having an affair. Ultimately, the women find solace in each other and get physical. The subject is handled very well by Deepa Mehta and excellently executed by the protagonists.
Yeh Nazdeekyan (1982)
Cast: Marc Zuber, Shabana Azmi, Parveen Babi.
Director: Vinod Pande
An advertising executive Sunil leading a happy married life with his wife Shobhna (Shabana Azmi) and daughter but falls for a beautiful model Kiran (Parveen Babi).
This disrupts his marriage after he confesses his affair to his wife. She moves out and revives her career as a singer for the radio. The model moves in but things begin to break.
Kiran is ridden with guilt and tries to bring the husband and wife together again. An intense film where Shabana shines and Babi sizzles.
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Arun Banerjee
Director: Aparna Sen
Aparna Sen deals with this age-old curse of sati by taking a feminine perspective and is brilliantly enacted by Shabana Azmi.
Set in 1828, it deals with a young Brahmin girl whose horoscope is so bad that her husband is bound to die if she marries. The practice of sati was dominant during those times and the villagers feared for the future of her husband.
However, her family get her married to a banyan tree to avoid the disaster.