A lot of Indian celebrities are often asked ‘Which actor’s career path would they like to follow?’ and more often than not, they reply – Meryl Streep. In many of these interviews, I have often wondered if Shabana Azmi is the Streep that India got decades ago but somehow, our industry did not really know how to celebrate her the way Hollywood celebrates Meryl Streep. Of course, she is a stellar actor who has won multiple awards, is known for her charismatic screen presence, and is all-around an institution in herself but the way Shabana Azmi carved her path through mainstream as well as ‘parallel cinema’ of the day is a guiding light for those who came after her.
Shabana Azmi’s career started at a time when the lines between mainstream cinema and the Indian ‘Parallel cinema’ movement were wedged deep. There were very few actors who could flow seamlessly from a Manmohan Desai movie to a Shyam Benegal film and Shabana was one of them. When she made her debut with Ankur in 1974, she became the woman who was another glorious addition to the stellar soldiers of the parallel movement. But soon enough, the audience found out that she was truly an enigmatic actor who could mold herself to any genre.