Daughter of the famous Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi and actress Shaukat, she was born into a Muslim family of intellectuals concerned about social rights. Her brother Baba Azmi, also is dedicated to the cinema.
She studied psychology at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai and then followed an acting course at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. At the beginning of her career, she maintained a relationship with Shekhar Kapur, but married the lyricist Javed Akhtar in 1984. It was her second marriage after screenwriter Honey Iraní.
It began with Shyam Benegal in Ankur (1972), with which it obtained its first national prize (it has 5) to the best actress, although before it had realized Faalsa, film that left later.
She is one of the few actresses who choose their roles in films in Indian cinema. Their interpretations are characterized by their social content and their preparation, in Mandi, she was a madam in a brothel, she gained weight and chewed betel, in Masoom, she was the typical urban Indian housewife, in "Fire", by Radha, in love with her sister-in-law, a role that earned her the 32nd Chicago Film Festival and the Jury Award for Best Actress at Outfest, Los Angeles.
She has also participated in television series, such as Anupama, where she plays the Indian role that asks for more freedom in the midst of strong traditional values. She has also done theater, MS Sathyu's Safed Kundali (1980), version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Farouque Shaikh's Tumhari Amrita, who spent five years on the stage or doing a version adapted by Ingram Bergman from the Visen Doll House at the Singapore Repertory Company.