Shabana Azmi, the well-known Indian actress, social activist, and diplomat, spoke to Hindi Urdu Flagship (HUF) students and the UT community on Wednesday, October 20 in the Texas Union Theater. HUF Associate Director for Urdu, Syed Akbar Hyder, introduced Azmi and led a panel of UT faculty members, including HUF Director, Rupert Snell, in an extended discussion with Azmi. She answered questions on such topics as the changing character of Hindi and Urdu in north India and her experience in international diplomacy. HUF students were also able to pose their own questions for Azmi after which the actress briefly met students and spoke to them about their experience in HUF.
The face of independent Indian cinema, Shabana Azmi has come to occupy a unique and prominent place in modern South Asian cultural history. A powerful actress whose presence has lent a vitality and sustainability to India’s so-called parallel cinema, Azmi has also played a decades-long role as a social activist, championing the cause of the marginalized and denouncing violent religious communalism in the subcontinent.
The daughter of a renowned Urdu poet (her father, Kaifi Azmi) and a well-known actress (Shaukat Azmi), Shabana Azmi came to prominence as the young star of the New Indian Cinema of the 1970s, working regularly in challenging films by Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen. She has since starred in over 60 films, the most familiar of which for American audiences would be Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Roland Joffe’s City of Joy. Azmi has played an equally important role as a social activist. She has lead several national campaigns against the ostracization of AIDS victims in India. She was nominated to the Indian Parliament in 1997 and she has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador for India.
Shabana Azmi’s visit was sponsored by the South Asia Institute, the Hindi Urdu Flagship, Department of Asian Studies, Department of Religious Studies, and the Islamic Studies Program.