Internationally acclaimed actress Shabana Azmi received a standing ovation yesterday as the University presented her with the King/Chavez/Parks Visiting Professorship Award.
Theatre Prof. Glenda Dickerson said Azmi, who currently serves as an ambassador to the United Nations and is a member of the Indian Parliament, received the award for her role in successfully infusing multicultural content into the educational system.
“The content of her films strikes at the heart of oppression and is a catalyst for change,” Dickerson said.
Azmi delivered a keynote interview on human rights, gender and Islam in South Asian film, as part of the Center for South Asian Studies ongoing film and popular culture series, entitled “Bollywood and Beyond.”
“For the people of my generation, Shabana Azmi has redefined what acting has come to mean. In combining art and political activism she has made her mark as a remarkable and inspiring public figure,” South Asian Studies Director Ashutosh Varshney said.
Azmi fielded questions about women”s rights, health care and underrepresented minorities.
“A woman should celebrate her body with autonomy. When a film caters to the male gaze by focusing only upon a woman”s swiveling hips or shaking navel, she loses that autonomy,” she said.
Though Azmi still expressed confidence in the current women”s empowerment movement, she voiced concern over the lack of quality health care that exists for women in India.
“It bothers me that 54 years after independence, the amount of pregnant women we lose in one week is more than the number of women all of Europe loses in one year,” Azmi said.
Azmi said she has used her role as a U.N. Ambassador to raise awareness about women”s health in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, but still feels the issue has a long way to go.
Rackham student Lindsay Ellis said she appreciated many of Azmi”s comments about tolerance.
“I”m so happy to come and be part of an international dialogue. I think we need more of that,” Ellis said.
Azmi said another topic that merits international action is social ignorance, where a lack of understanding about other races, religions and sexual orientations leads to fear of the other.
“In today”s intolerant world order, it”s very important to shed that fear of the other and discuss our differences rather than brush them under the carpet,” Azmi said.
She also touched upon certain cultural differences that exist between India and the West, and said the Indian women”s movement has tried to work within the existing marriage structure through negotiation of space rather than rejecting the whole arrangement.
“Indian women know that with rights come responsibility, which makes their movement different from that of the West,” she said.
LSA junior Nadia Shoeb, a longtime fan of Azmi, said it was a pleasure to hear her speak in person.
“Even though I didn”t necessarily agree with everything she said, her words are certainly something to think about,” Shoeb said.