Indian cinema’s veteran actor Shabana Azmi, known for her diverse range of stereotype-smashing roles, celebrates her seventieth birthday today. Her extraordinaire does not restrict to just cinema, but goes much beyond. On her special day, here are some lesser known facts about the versatile actress.
-- Shabana Azmi and her fellow theatre actor Farooq Sheikh had participated in the renowned experimental project Tumhari Amrita, a play comprising two actors reading out letters to one another on stage. The show became an annual event which ran for 21 years.
-- The last show, before Sheikh’s demise in 2013, was held on December 14 against the backdrop of Taj Mahal. In an interview to Times of India, Azmi recalled how she was arrested with 16 slum dwellers before her show on one occasion. She also refused to get out on bail leaving her fellow actor in jitters who rushed to the police station to take her to NCPA where the audience awaited their performance. Tumhari Amrita was based on the 1988 American play AR Gurney’s Love Letters.
-- Shabana is the president of Mijwan Welfare Organisation which works for the marginalised sections of the society. The NGO was founded by her father and renowned Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi in 1993. Shabana also hosts the annual Mijwan fashion show where Bollywood stars walk the ramp.
-- The Arth actor has been vocal against injustices in the society. One of the memorable protests by Azmi was in 1989. At the 12th International Film Festival of India held in New Delhi in 1989, she criticised the then Congress government for its failures after communist playwright and director Safdar Hashmi was murdered in the capital. “We filmmakers and film lovers wish to register out protest against the system that, on one hand, claims to promote creativity and on the other connive in the murder of a cultural activist,” she said.
-- She was arrested in 2014 for leading protests against land acquisition of slum dwellers in Mumbai. Being a vocal social welfare worker, Azmi had protested against Mumbai municipal corporation’s move to demolish slums of the poor in the city. She was accompanied by documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and Lima Sehgal on April 1, 2014 when the police arrested them and took them to Azad Maidan police station, according to a India Today report. The news of her arrest brought her fellow colleagues like Om Puri and Vijay Tendulkar to her rescue.