Daughter of renowned leftist Urdu Poet, KAIFI AZMI,and famous stage actress, SHAUKAT KAIFI, SHABANA AZMI is a graduate in Psychology from St.Xavier's college Secured her Diploma in Acting along with being awarded the GOLD MEDAL for the Best Student in Acting from the Film Institute, Pune.
Winner of five NATIONAL AWARDS for Best Actress , 'ANKUR' IN 1974, she went on to win 3 more National Awards in a row for 'ARTH' IN 1983, 'KHANDHAR' in 1984, and "PAAR" in 1985 and for 'GOD MOTHER ' in 1999 thus becoming the only actor/actress to achieve this feat in the country. She has also won every single award for acting in the country, in many instances, more than thrice, such as Filmfare, B.F.J.A. etc. She has acted in over more than hundred films in Hindi, starring in the lead role, taking care to work both in the mainstream and parallel cinema.
She has won the International Award for Best Actress - For Gulzar's 'LIBAAS' in North Korea 1993 , at the TAORMINA ARTE FESTIVAL in Italy for Goutam Ghose's 'PATANG' in August 1994 and CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL and LOS ANGELES OUTFEST for Deepa Mehta's 'FIRE' in 1996
She has had retrospectives of her films at the prestigious George Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Norwegian Film Institute, the Smithsonian Institution and the American Film Institute in Washington, Pacific Cinemetheque and Winnipeg Cinematheque.
She is the only Asian actor ever to be honoured with a retrospective of her films at Lincoln Centre at the 40th New York Film Festival.
She has been Chairperson of the Jury at the Montreal and Cairo International Film Festivals.
Shabana Azmi has won International acclaim in JOHN Schlesinger's MADAME SOUSATZKA co-starring SHIRLEY MC'LAINE, NICHOLAS KLOTZ'S `THE BENGALI NIGHT,co-starring JOHN HURT and HUGH GRANT and ROLAND JOFFE'S CITY OF JOY, CO-STARRING PATRICK SWAYZE. Other films include Channel 4's "IMMACULATE CONCEPTION", opposite James Wilby "THE SON OF PINK PANTHER" by Blake Edward and Ismail Merchants's "IN CUSTODY".
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".
Apart from being a highly respected actress, Shabana Azmi is also a committed social activist. Inspired by the fiery zeal of her father, who has worked extensively with construction labours, she undertook a 5-day hunger strike for the slum dwellers in Bombay.
As Chairperson of the NIVARA HAKK SURAKSHA SAMITI, she demanded & managed to get alternative land for the disputed slum dwellers of Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, NIVARA HAKK opposes demolitions, arguing that demolitions only create worse slums out of already existing slums and that upgradation is the better alternative.
Alongwith Swami Agnivesh and Asghar Ali Engineer, she undertook a 4-day march for communal harmony from DELHI to MEERUT in April, 1989. She has also participated in several street plays and demonstrations against the rising wave of communalism. In the aftermath of the Babri Masjid Demolition, she along with activists of NIVARA HAKK, helped to diffuse tension in several slums. To their credit, NIVARA HAKK did not have a single incident of violence whilst the city was ablaze.
She has addressed several universities in U.S.A. - such as Columbia, Berkeley, UC Irvine, MIT Boston, Wellesley Boston, Ann Arbour, Brynmore, University of Chicago, University of London, on the need to relate communal harmony to issues of social justice.
She has won the RAJIV GANDHI AWARD for 'Excellence in Secularism' in August 1994.
She has won the YASH BHARTIYA award from the Govt. of Uttar Pradesh for highlighting women's issues both in her work as an actress and activist.
With the extensive tour of her play "TUMHARI AMRITA", she has raised funds for displaced Kashmiri migrants and for the victims of the Latur Earthquake.
She is on the Advisory Council of the ENDOWMENT CAMPAIGN FOR CHAIR IN INDIAN STUDIES, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.
She was awarded PADMA SHRI in 1988 by the Government of India, given to eminent citizens for excellence in their field and distinguished contribution to Society.
She has been nominated to the RAJYA SABHA (UPPER HOUSE) as a MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT by the President of India.
She was one of sixteen women to whom tributes were paid in July '89 by President MITTERAND of France on the bicentenary celebrations of International Human Rights. Others included were MOTHER THERESA, RIGOBERTA MENCHU etc.
In November, '93 she was invited to Cape Town to present The News Maker of the Year Award to President Nelson Mandela.
She has been appointed the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador on Population And Development.
She is Visiting Professor at Michigan State University and recipient of Martin Luther King, Parks and Chavez Award.
She has been awarded D.Litt. by the Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkatta.
Has just been chosen by TIME Magazine as 1 of 25 Asian heroes and the only woman amongst 4 Indians who has made a difference.
Shabana Azmi is married to Javed Akhtar, Urdu Poet and the finest Script Writer in Hindi Cinema.