indian cinema heritage foundation


  • Born: 21 September (Bombay)
  • Primary Cinema: Hindi
  • Parents: Sarojini and Nanubhai Vakil

Azra, daughter of actress Sarojini and famous producer-director Nanubhai Vakil, made her acting debut with the film Mother India in 1957. She was cast opposite Sunil Dutt in a positive role in the Mehboob Khan classic. Although she was cast as a leading lady in a few films including Babar (1960), she thereafter featured in character roles in films such as Love in Simla (1960), Gunga Jumna (1961), Pocket Maar (1974) and Junglee (1961). With more than 20 films to her credit, she chose to quit the industry post marriage. 

Progeny of Roshan Jehan (Rani) whose screen name was Sarojini, and producer of fantasy films – Nanubhai Vakil, Azra was born on 21 September in Bombay. After passing her standard VI from St. Teresa’s Convent High School, Santacruz, she shifted to Delhi to live with her maternal grandmother in 1950. During her five-year stay in Delhi, she completed her schooling from St. Francis School of Pahadi Bhojla – Chitlikabar – Jama Masjid area and then returned to Mumbai in 1954-55. 


Her entry into the film industry happened by chance. During the first year BA course at Jogeshwari’s Ismail Yusuf College,  she one day attended a marriage function at Arya Samaj, Santacruz where filmmaker Mehboob Khan’s wife Sardar Akhtar was also present. Sardar Akhtar was a close friend of Azra’s maternal aunt, Indurani. Sardar Akhtar remarked to Azra’s aunt that she was very beautiful. Three-four days later, Sardar Akhtar made a phone call at her home. Azra had gone to college at the time and the same evening the family was to leave for Ajmer to join her father who was shooting there for one of his films. Sardar Akhtar left a message for Azra, asking her to reach Mehboob Studio as soon as she reached home from college. Azra did so, reaching Bandra’s Mehboob Studio to find the shooting of Mother India in progress.

A scene from 'Mother India' (1957). 
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The girl who had been signed for the role of Chandra - the ladylove of Birju (Sunil Dutt) - was in Lucknow. She had suddenly taken ill and was unable to reach Bombay for the shoot. That’s why Sardar Akhtar had called Azra to offer her the part. She had never even applied lipstick and now had to apply full makeup for a movie! When Nargis saw her dilemma, she helped her to tie her hair in a braid. Thus, without any planning, did Azra become an actress, debuting with Mother India (1957).

Her next film, Taxi 555 released in 1958. She played the second lead in this film, which had Pradeep Kumar and Shakila as the main leads. Her debut film as the main heroine came with the 1959 release Ghar Ghar Ki Baat. It was produced by her uncle and Salim Shah’s father, Ramniklal Shah. However, both these films failed to impress the audiences. She had two releases in the year 1960 - one was the family drama Babar, which was made under the banner of Filmistan, and which starred her alongside Gajanan Jagirdar. The other was Love in Simla, produced under the banner of Filmalaya. Love in Simla, the debut film of Joy Mukherjee and Sadhana, saw Azra play the second heroine in the romance genre film. A super hit film of its times, Love in Simla helped Azra gain the attention of the audience.

A scene from 'Mother India' (1957). 
Image courtesy:

Azra’s career lasted approximately 15 years. For the most part, she acted in second heroine and character roles in around two dozen films including Junglee (1961), Gunga Jumna (1961) in which she was the second lead opposite Nasir Khan., Ganga Ki Lahren (1964), Ishara (1964), Baharon Ke Sapne (1967), Bandish (1969), Wapas (1969), Raja Sahib (1969), Mahal (1969), My Love (1970) and Ilzaam (1970).

She bid adieu to filmdom after she got married in January 1971 into a well-known business family of Bombay. Her films Shaan-e-Khuda (1971) - directed by her father Nanubhai Vakil, and Pocket Maar (1974) released after her marriage. She thereafter cut ties with the film industry, as no one at her in-laws’ home had any relation or inclination towards the film world. Dev Anand, with whom she had previously worked in Mahal (1970), had also offered her a role in one of his films but she politely declined his offer. Post marriage, she completed her pending work and bid adieu to the film world forever. She took on the name Farhana Lokhandwala, and lives a peaceful retired life.