Shabana Azmi to be feted at SAIF Festival


MUMBAI: On its opening night, SAIFF will honor filmmaker, actress and activist Shabana Azmi with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to South Asian cinema.


From her breakout role in her debut film in 1974, Shyam Benegal’s Ankur, for which she won her first of five National Awards, Azmi ventured upon an audacious path in cinema and stage by acting in over 100 independent, mainstream, and international films and appearing in a number of plays.


She credits Ankur, the film that essentially launched the art or independent film industry in India, with steering her on the eventual path to critical acclaim in the then emerging independent film movement. A career including many accolades in film festivals promoting independent cinema, including 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 1994, Chicago International Film Festival and Los Angeles Outfest for Deepa Mehta’s Fire in 1996, and Reel World Toronto Film Festival’s Award for Excellence 2005 for Morning Raga.


In an interview with SAIFF, she spoke about her enduring lifetime bond with the pioneering director of the art or independent cinema movement in India dubbed “parallel cinema” at that time. “Shyam is responsible for the way my career was shaped. I call him my reluctant guru. He contributed to my aesthetics and to this day he still calls me to give me his opinion about my work. He must have great affection for me and I value his criticism tremendously,” Azmi said.


She spoke about the changing nature of Indian cinema, in particular, the emergence of independent cinema as a viable alternative to commercial cinema. “India is a vital, dynamic country full of contradictions, and these are being brought out and discussed in contemporary parallel cinema. This independent cinema is emerging and breaking a strangehold on the commercial film industry in India. These films are now also being made in English because these directors are looking for an international market,” she added.


“This year, for the first time, SAIFF presents its lifetime achievement award to an individual known for their work in front of the camera. Ms. Amzi is one of the few refined actors within the industry willing to take on independent film roles throughout her career. She has that rare gift of being able to get underneath each of her character’s skin so convincingly, no matter how different the character in each film. Even more unique is her conviction in mostly taking on roles that make strong statements and reinforce positive stereotypes about women,” said SAIFF president Shilen Amin.


Azmi, who will not be able to accept her award at the festival in person due to scheduling conflicts, appears in the festival’s opening night world premiere, Loins of Punjab Presents.