( 1919 - 2002 )
Kaifi Azmi was an Indian lyricist. He was a recipient of the Padma Shri. He is the father of the actress Shabana Azmi.
Uncertain about his date of birth Azmi Saab however was certain that he was born in enslaved India, grew old in Independent India and that he would die in Socialist India. He was born as Akhtar Husain Rizvi, in a small hamlet, Majwan, in the district of Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh in a family of landlords. His father Syed Fateh Husain Rizvi, though was a landlord, but took up employment first in a small native state, Balharah, as a tahsildar and later on other areas of Uttar Pradesh. He decided to send his sons to schools imparting modern education, including English, against the stiff opposition of his relatives. However, Azmi Saab could not get this opportunity because his elders wanted him to be a theologian. He was admitted in Sultan-ul-Madaris, a reputed seminary in Lucknow. However his nonconformist nature created many problems for the authorities of the seminary. He formed a Students' Union and asked all the students to go on strike for getting their demands fulfilled. The strike continued for one and half year. Though the strike was called off, he was expelled from the seminary. This was the end of his elders' dream to train him to be a theologian. Azmi Saab could not seek modern education but he passed various examinations of Lucknow and Allahabad Universities that helped him acquire command over Arabic, Persian and Urdu languages.
During this period the leading progressive writers of Lucknow noticed him. They were very much impressed by his leadership qualities. They also saw in him a budding poet and extended all possible cooperation and encouragement to him. Consequently, Azmi Saab began to win great acclaim as a poet. His initiation into poetry was most interesting. At the age of eleven he, somehow, managed to get himself invited to a Mushaira and over there recited a ghazal, rather a couplet of the ghazal, which was very much appreciated by the President of the Mushaira, Mani Jaisi, but most of the people, including his father, thought that he recited his elder brother's ghazal. When his elder brother denied it, his father and his clerk decided to test his poetic talent. They gave him one of the lines of a couplet and asked him to write a ghazal in the same meter and rhyme. Azmi Saab accepted the challenge and within no time completed a ghazal. That particular ghazal was to become a rage in undivided India sung by none other than the legendary ghazal singer, Begum Akhtar and went thus: Itna to Zindagi Mein Kisiki Khalal Pade Hasne se ho Sukoon Na Rone se Kal Pade. He however abandoned his studies of Persian and Urdu during the Quit India agitations of 1942 and shortly thereafter became a full time Marxist when he accepted membership of the Communist Party in 1943. He was asked to shift base to Mumbai and work among the workers and started party work with lot of zeal and enthusiasm and at the same time would attend Mushairas in different parts of India. In 1947, he reached Hyderabad to participate in a Mushaira. There he met with Shaukat, fell in love with her and both got married. Shaukat Kaifi, later on, became a well known actress of theatre and film.
Like most of the Urdu poets, Azmi Saab began as a ghazal writer cramming his poetry with the oft-repeated themes of love and romance in a style that was replete with clichs and metaphors. However, his association with the Progressive Writers' Movement and Communist Party made him embark on the path of socially conscious poetry. In his poems he highlights the exploitation of the subaltern masses and through them he conveys a message of the creation of a just social order by dismantling the existing one. Yet, his poetry cannot be called plain propaganda. It has its own merits; intensity of emotions, in particular, the spirit of sympathy and compassion towards the disadvantaged section of society are the hallmarks of his poems. His poems are also notable for their rich imagery and in this respect his contribution to Urdu poetry can hardly be overstated. He published three anthologies of poetry Aakhir-e-Shab, Jhankar and Awaara Sajde. Recently Penguin came out with a translation of his poems in English - Selected Poems Kaifi Azmi.
Azmi Saab was also an active member of Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and in later years its president. His role in theatre was very important — he ensured that even after the communist movement started dying, its cultural component was kept alive. Once or twice he got young writers to produce plays and perform them at the Bhulabhai Desai Hall to collect funds for the Communist Party.
Azmi Saab's stint in film includes working as lyricist, writer and yes even actor! His early work as story writer was mainly for Nanubhai Vakil's films like Yahudi ki Beti (1956), Parvin (1957), Miss Punjab Mail (1958) and Id ka Chand (1958). But perhaps his greatest feat as a writer was Chetan Anand's Heer Ranjha (1970) wherein the entire dialogue of the film was in verse. It was a tremendous achievement and one of the great feats in Hindi Film writing. Azmi Saab also won great critical accolades for the script, dialogues and lyrics of M.S. Sathyu's Garam Hawa (1973), based on a story by Ismat Chughtai. The film, chronicles the plight of the minority Muslims in North India and is set in Agra after the first major partition exodus. Balraj Sahni played to perfection the central role of an elderly Muslim shoe manufacturer who must decide whether to continue living in India or to migrate to the newly formed state of Pakistan. Garam Hawa remains today one of the most poignant films ever to be made on India's partition. Azmi also wrote the dialogues for Shyam Benegal's Manthan (1976) and Sathyu's Kanneshwara Rama (1977). As a lyrics writer though he wrote for numerous films, he would always be remembered for Guru Dutt's Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) and Chetan Anand's Haqeeqat (1964), India's greatest ever war film. In the former who can forget Dekhi Zamaane ki Yaari Bichde Sabi Baari Baari or Waqt ne Kiya Kya Haseen Situm and Hoke Majboor Mujhe Usne Bhulaya Hoga or Kar Chale Hum Fida Jaan-o-Tan Saathiyon in the latter. The last mentioned patriotic song causes goose p***les even when heard today. Some other notable films for which he wrote the lyrics include Uski Kahani (1966), Bawarchi (1972), Pakeezah (1972), Hanste Zakhm (1973) and Razia Sultan (1983). He also played a memorable old man in Naseem (1995),a touching film centered around the destruction of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. The film is set in June-December 1992, the days preceding the demolition of the Masjid on December 6, 1992 by Hindutva fanatics. Naseem (Mayuri Kango) is a schoolgirl belonging to a middle class Mumbai based Muslim family. She enjoys a warm relationship with her aged ailing grandfather (Azmi Saab). With increasing horror the family watches on their TV the news of the build up at Ayodhya while the grandfather regales her with stories of life in pre-independence Agra. The grandfather dies on December 6 coinciding with the news of the destruction of the mosque. Azmi Saab's brilliant performance provides not just a reminder but a literal embodiment of the cultural traditions at stake those tragic days. It was a performance his daughter, multiple National Award winning actress Shabana Azmi, was proud of.
Kaifi Saab has won various awards and he has been honoured by various national and international institutions. These include the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Award, the Soviet Land Nehru Award and the Sahitya Academy Award for his collection, Awaara Sajde, the Maharashtra State Urdu Academy's Special Award for his contribution to Urdu literature and the Afro-Asian Writers' Committee's Lotus Award. He also won the National Award and Filmfare Award for the screenplay and dialogue of Garam Hawa. Azmi Saab was also the subject of a documentary film Kaifi Azmi (1979) made by Raman Kumar. His son Baba Azmi is a reputed cinematographer while son-in-law Javed Akhtar is a well known writer, lyricist and poet and daughter-in-law Tanvi, a fine actress in her own right.
This group of firebrand writers and poets also became the moving spirit of the Communist Party of India. Their romance with the left movement saw them spend time in jail. After India became free these writers realised the need for regular work to keep the home fires burning. Ask Shabana Azmi and she will tell you how her father and mother, Shaukat Azmi, better known as Moti Apa, had to spread newspapers in a small room of the party office as bed before the Hindi film industry came to their help. In fact, most of the progressive writers moved to Bombay because the Hindi film industry needed the skills of these talented Urdu writers for it to strike roots in post-Partition India. After Sahir the poet from Azamgarh was, perhaps, the most successful lyric writer. Of course, the students of literature would remember him for his contribution to Urdu poetry. But a vast body of his fans and admirers was made up of lovers of Hindi film songs. He started his career as a song writer with Shahid Latif's "Buzdil" and went on to gain a permanent place in Bollywood's hall of fame with "Kaagaz Ke Phool" and "Haqeeqat". His commitment to the country's secular values saw him pen a memorable poem captioned "Ram ka Doosra Banwas" on the demolition of Babri Masjid that resulted in a wave of hate crimes throughout the country. He must have been in deep pain in his last moments not because of the attack of asthma, but because of the madness that shows no signs of abating in Gujarat.Edited by Qwest - 13 years ago
|'He was today's Mirza Ghalib'|
Bollywood pays tribute to Kaifi Azmi
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As told to Lata KhubchandaniEdited by Qwest - 13 years ago
Azmi had expressed a wish to be buried at Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. He is likely to be buried in Mumbai at 5 pm on Friday.Edited by Qwest - 13 years ago
After a winning performance in "Mirza Ghalib", Tanvi could well have gone for brighter stars. But she was more content being a homemaker. Now that the home is safe and sound, she can afford to be tempted by the camera glare.Edited by Qwest - 13 years ago
Straight from the heart
Rani Balbir Kaur's tribute to Kaifi Azmi revives the power of his poetry and personality. Aditi Tandon reports
Kaifi Azmi was essentially a poet of the world. Much ahead of his times, he could step into the future and talk of a world that had lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. Tormented by sectarianism, Kaifi did everything in his power to arrest the trend. Most of all, he wrote with a heart that cared and wrote not of rosy fictions of life but of its painful realities.
The relevance of Kaifi has thus naturally inspired creative artistes to capture his philosophy in their chosen mediums of expression. Rani Balbir Kaur, a former chairperson of the Department of Indian Theatre, Panjab University, Chandigarh who had the privilege of knowing Kaifi, has made the very first among these attempts. Using the poet's family as her primary source for research, Rani Balbir has structured a sensitive production that offers a first hand introduction of Kaifi Azmi.
Entitled Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam (incidentally Kaifi's favourite song from Kagaz ke Phool), the play derives from Kaifi's writings, Shaukat Azmi's yet-to-be published autobiography Yaad ki Rahguzar, Shabana Azmi's articles and a poem Ajeeb aadmi tha that Javed Akhtar specially wrote for the play.
Already three productions old, the play presents Kaifi, as he was – a believer in gender equality, a votary of socialism as a panacea to evil and a harbinger of dreams which poor dreamt. Rich with myriad shades Kaifi's poetry, the production unfolds the poet's charisma verse by verse. It features poems spanning varied areas of Kaifi's interest: Socialism: Aaj ki raat badi garm hawa chalti hai…aaj ki raat na footpath pe neend aayegi; Sab utho main bhi uthoon, tum bhi utho, tum bhi utho; koi khidki kisi deewar mei khul jaayegi…
Gender sensitisation: Aye hama-rang hama-noor hama-soz-o-gudaz, bazm-e-mehtaab se aane ki zaroorat kya thi; Tu jahan thi usi jannat mein nikharta tera roop; Is jahannum ko basane ki zarrorat kya thi...
Woman :(this was the poem that floored Shaukat Azmi who finally married Kaifi): Tu jo bejaan khilonon se behel jaati hai, Tapti saanson ki haraarat se pighal jaati hai; Paaon jis raah mein rakhti hai fisal jaati hai, Banke seemaab har ik zarf mein dhal jaati hai…Zist ke aahni saanche bhi dhalna hai tujhe, uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe…
Romance: Pyar ka jashne nayee tarah manana hoga…gham kisi dil mein ho gham ko mitana hoga…
Also woven into the script are landmark events from Kaifi's life – his romantic encounter with Shaukat; his love for the village, his outpourings against fundamentalism. All these episodes offer insights into the life of poet who used to say, "When you work for a change, keep space for despair as you may not see your efforts to fruition in your lifetime…but the struggle must abide…endure and go on…"
For Rani Balbir, putting together the source material was a great challenge. She explains, "Building on the storyline was tough. Another problem was Kaifi's no nonsense nature. Unlike most poets who are conscious of their social identity, Kaifi was reticent. My challenge was to put words and images to a man of few words."
It all started when Shaukat Azmi read out few passages from her book Mere Shauhar mere Dost to Rani Balbir at her Mumbai home. Says Rani, "I felt a pressing urge to tell Kaifi's tale to the world. I was glad to have the support of Shaukat and Shabana. Shabana sent me a world of literature on her father. She even offered to act if I hired professional actors. But I chose to groom amateurs."
The first show was staged in a hurry, mainly because Shabana was eager to see how it had evolved. The second show, presented on December 24 last year, was a huge success. It had among the audience Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Baba Azmi and Tanvi Azmi. Smitten by the production, Baba Azmi expressed a desire to make a film on the script. Rani Balbir is now writing that script. She wishes to call the film "A soul by nature pitched too high…"
"Here the reference is to Kaifi who despite being physically paralysed showed great courage of action," says Rani who staged the last show for Pakistani guests at Chandigarh's Tagore Theatre on March 11. But it could not impress like the earlier ones because many of the trained actors did not turn up.
Now as the show rests in Rani Balbir's storehouse, her concern is to raise a team of committed actors who would not let her down on March 29 when the production will again be staged on special request from Shabana Azmi. This one will be held exclusively for the Communist Party of India.
This theatrical presentation traces the life and poetry of renowned Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi. The letters and writings of Kaifi Azmi and his wife Shaukat Kaifi are brought to life by Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar. The early years growing up in his village Mijwan...courtship days....their wedding...life in Bombay in the 50s...Kaifi's work with mill workers...his fight against life-threatening illness... We attempt to understand Kaifi Azmi, the man behind the poet. In her inimitable style Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar take us through a very personal journey and share moments that should be cherished for many a lifetime.
Kaifi Azmi wrote the script, dialogue and lyrics for M S Sathyu's Garm Hawa (1973), widely considered a landmark in Indian cinema. Sathyu first met the poet in the Bombay of the '50s, when the Indian People's Theatre Association was putting up Left-inspired theatre productions that moved away from that city's escapist fare. Sathyu later directed Kannada films like Kanneshwara Rama (1977; about a folk hero and freedom fighter), Chitegu Chinte (1980; a satirical take on the Emergency and Jayaprakash Narayan's movement against it) and Bara (1981; about the politics of drought). Kaifi Azmi also wrote the dialogues for the Hindi version of Kanneshwara Rama. Sathyu is now working on an unnamed Kannada film, and will start shooting in August.
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