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Veteran Actress Shabana Azmi Honored with Prestigious London Freedom Award

In an illustrious ceremony steeped in historical significance, the City of London Corporation honored celebrated Indian actress Shabana Azmi with the distinguished Freedom of the City of London award. The accolade, which traces its roots back to the 13th century, stands as a mark of respect for those who have made an extraordinary contribution to London or to public life. Shabana Azmi, a renowned artist and women’s rights advocate, was presented with this tribute for her eminent career in Indian cinema and her fervent activism.

The event unfolded in the very heart of Britain’s financial district, known as the City of London or the Square Mile, which functions as the hub of London’s governance, dedicated to fostering a city that is as diverse as it is sustainable. The Freedom of the City of London traditionally acknowledges individuals of remarkable merit, extending back to ancient times when possessing this honor permitted one to partake in the commercial life of the London city without restraint.

At 73 years of age, Shabana Azmi’s accolades reach far and wide, with notable achievements including five National Awards for Best Actress and a sextet of Filmfare Awards. Her visit to London, concurrent with the annual UK Asian Film Festival (UKAFF), which celebrated her half-a-century in the film industry, made the timing for the award especially poignant. At a recent ceremony, she graciously accepted the Freedom of the City of London, expressing her gratitude and the significance she places on the responsibility it embodies.

“I am deeply honoured to receive the Freedom of the City of London award. It is a testament to the power of cinema and activism that we are able to transcend borders and make a meaningful impact on society,” Azmi shared with the attendees. She continued to affirm her dedication to using her platform as both an artist and an advocate to inspire social change.

The nomination for this laurel came from Alderman Alastair King DL and Deputy Brian Mooney BEM, who championed her exemplary career and philanthropic pursuits. Highlighting her debut in Satyajit Ray’s 1974 opus, ‘Ankur’, which featured at UKAFF in a segment titled “Celebrating the Golden Girl of Indian Cinema,” Azmi’s cinematic journey was extolled. Beyond her thespian exploits, the actress is renowned as a public health activist and a champion for women’s rights, serving as the President of Nivara Hakk—a housing rights non-governmental organization—and leading the Mijwan Welfare Society which focuses on the advancement of rural India.

Alderman King expressed his pride in nominating Azmi saying, “With an impressive acting career, coupled with her unwavering commitment to make the world a better place, it is not surprising that she is regarded as a role model by so many women who look to her for inspiration.” City of London Corporation Policy Chairman Chris Hayward also praised her, stating, “Her unequivocal talent, commitment, and dedication make her a trailblazer in global cinema.”

Shabana Azmi’s noteworthy London tribute was just one of the ceremonial highlights marking her lasting impact; she also received the Tongues on Fire Golden Flame Award on the closing night of the festival, in honor of her contributions to the realm of Indian cinema. Amidst other laureates were celebrated playback and classical singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, who was bestowed the Golden Flame Lifetime Achievement Award, and designer Rina Dhaka, who received a Flame Award for Celebrating Sustainable Fashion. Additionally, Supriya Pathak earned the Flame Best Actor award for her role in ‘Baby Castro’, a film featured at the annual festival.

Indeed, the Freedom of the City of London has been bestowed upon a variety of high-profile figures in recent times, including ex-England footballer Ian Wright, double Olympic gold medallist Tom Dean, and the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty. This venerable tradition continues to honor those who have not only excelled in their fields but have also made a significant impact on society.

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