Many Indian celebrities are often asked ‘Which actor’s career path do they want to follow?’ And most often, they reply – Meryl Streep. In many of these interviews, I often wonder if Shabana Azmi is the strip that came to India decades ago but somehow, our industry really doesn’t know how Hollywood celebrates Meryl Streep. In fact, she is a multi-award winning star actor, she is known for her glamorous screen presence, and there is a company around her but Shabana Azmi has made her way through the mainstream and ‘parallel cinema’. She was the guiding light of the day for those who came after her.
Shabana Azmi’s career began at a time when there was a deep rift between mainstream cinema and the Indian ‘parallel cinema’ movement. There are very few actors who flow smoothly from Manmohan Desai film to Shyam Benegal film and Shabana is one of them. When she made her debut with Ankur in 1974, she became another wonderful pair of star soldiers for the parallel movement. But soon, the audience realized that she was really an elusive actor who could adapt himself to any genre.
It may come as a shock to indie loyalists when they see Amar Akbar singing “Humko Tumse Ho Gaya Hai Pyar” with Vinod Khanna in Antony or moving her leg for “Jate Ho Jaane Jaana” in Parvarish. But looking back, Shabana diversified herself. A lot of actors often say – ‘one for them, one for me’, Shabana is doing so before a thing comes up in India. In the same year Amar Akbar played Antony and Parwarish, Shabana Basu in Chatterjee Swamy as a wife caught in a dilemma between love and duty and won the Filmfare Best Actress Award for it.
Although the 1980s were generally considered one of the worst decades in the mainstream film industry, it was a time when parallel films were developing and for Shabana, it was her shining time. She has appeared in films like Art, Masoom and Mandi and has received rave reviews for her performance in all of them. Pretending to be a wife who does not depend on her husband’s tastes and tastes, Shabana still makes the worship of the Earth very relative. Even in Masoom, her confusion in accepting Jugal Hansraj Rahul is so delicately balanced that it can be seen in the non-film that was the big movie of the 80s. But while she was leading Alt-Thinking in these films, she went into the mainstream with Avatar. Starring alongside Rajesh Khanna and humming “Chalo Bulawa Ayya Mata Ne Bulaya Hai”, the ideal wife and mother made her acting audience cry.
While balancing both sides of her scale for decades, Shabana came under intense criticism when she appeared in Deepa Mehta Fire along with Nandita Das. The film stars in-laws caring for each other in love. An LGBTQ film is still banned in our country, and in the 90s, the film that explored this topic invited a lot of controversy.
The Godmother, 15 Park Avenue, Neerja and many other films saw Shabana Azmi completely steal the show with her stunning performances and although her journey still continues, her filmography is impressive with unique and diverse options. She has been a trademark since the 70s.