Kaifi Azmi Lyricist(Page 3)

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Posted: 13 years ago
 

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(Kaifi Azmi)

 

( 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.

Edited by Qwest - 13 years ago
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Posted: 13 years ago
Azmi KAIFI Azmi was, perhaps, one of the last two surviving links with the Progressive Writers' Movement [taraqqee pasand tahreek]. Moinuddin Jazbee is the other name that any student of Urdu literature would immediately associate with the movement that saw a galaxy of outstanding writers and poets give Hindustani literature amazing depth and substance. Jazbee now lives in retirement in Aligrah. Rabindranath Tagore gave his blessings to the new genre of creative writing. So did Kazi Nazrul Islam. Premchand was among the founding members of the "tahreek" that also enjoyed the patronage and blessings of Josh Malihabadi and Raghupati Sahai "Firaq". The "tahreek" itself was a by-product of the freedom movement spearheaded by the Indian National Congress in the 40s. Ismat Chughtai, Sadat Hasan Manto, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianavi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Maqdoom Moihuddin, Jazbee, Krishan Chander, Razia Sajjad Zaheer, Banney Bhai, Niaz Haider and Kaifi were among the new set of romantics who believed that producing powerful literature against British imperial rule would help the cause of liberating India from centuries of subjugation. To produce a complete list of the poets and writers who contributed to the growth of the unique literary movement from memory is like trying to count the stars. The prince charming of the unique movement, that also saw the birth of Indian People's Theatre, was without doubt Israr-ul-Haq Majaz. He died young during the All India Urdu Conference in Lucknow in December, 1955.

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
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Kaifi Azmi
'He was today's Mirza Ghalib'
Bollywood pays tribute to Kaifi Azmi
Renowned Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi is no more. Azmi, who had been ailing for some years now, passed away at Mumbai's Jaslok Hospital at 7 am this morning. A forceful voice as a Communist Party of India activist, his contribution to Indian cinema and literature was immense as well. Director Chetan Anand would not think of anyone else but Azmi as lyricist for his films. In fact, Anand and Azmi were close friends. They were both members of the Indian People's Theatre Association. Yore has it
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the two shared such a deep bond that they would sit for hours together --- in absolute silence. Neither would speak a word to the other! One of the last films which boasted of Azmi's lyrics was Vijay Anand's under-production Jaana Na Dil Se Door. One of the songs of this film was sung by Vijay's brother and veteran filmmaker Dev Anand, actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda and television artiste Arundhati Ghanorkar. His death, say his fans, leaves a void that cannot be filled. Here, a few luminaries of the Hindi film industry pay their respects: Sitara Devi (dancer) He was such a lovely man. We have known each other since 1945, if my memory serves me right. I remember he wrote an innovative play called Aakhri Kshama on the life of the poet Mirza Ghalib. It was very popular then. His play mentions a fairy who has a dance sequence. Once, his regular dancer fell ill. He approached me for help. I reassured him I would send someone. I dressed for the part and went to dance. The situation demanded dim lights so I was sure no one would recognise me. He said, gratefully, "I couldn't possibly have asked you to dance." In fact, later, people were surprised that I had danced without any publicity. [Kaifi Azmi's wife] Shaukat and I used to go to a health club together and chat for hours. I recall [his daughter] Shabana as a tiny girl. Just recently, I bought Kaifisaab's book of poems Meri Awaaz Suno in Delhi. I memorise the lines --- they give me a lot of joy. Nida Fazli (poet-lyricist) Azmi's contribution has been manifold because he had such varied interests --- he was an activist-poet who belonged to the generation of progressive writers. In Urdu, the progressive movement started with Mulk Raj Anand, Sajjad Zahir and Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Azmi belonged to the junior cadre of the progressive movement. He was also connected with the Indian People's Theatre Association and was an active member of the Communist Party of India till the very end. I found him very gentle, very quiet, a man of socio-political awareness. He was socially active. Most of his work was for the downtrodden and oppressed. I participated in many mushairas with him, both in India and abroad. His voice was God's gift --- he would out his verses on stage --- it was a joy to watch him. He lyrics are immortal --- Waqt ne kiya kya haseen situm [Kaagaz Ke Phool] Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo [Haqeeqat]. His Heer Ranjha with Chetan Anand was an experimental film written totally in verse. Khayyam (composer) Khayyam hspace6 I am shocked. The 1940s and the decades highlighted the fact that he was one of our leading poets. I always called him today's Mirza Ghalib. His style was totally individualistic. Recently, I composed an album on his writings titled Shaguftgi. His poems and ghazals were also educational. You know, he could keep you enthralled for hours when he recited his verses. When his songs came to me, I always felt it was incredible stuff. I worked with him first in Lala Rookh. Look at his words: Pyaas kuch aur bhi bhadka di jhalak dikhlake, tujhko parda rukheroshanse hataana hoga. They were huge hits. I remember there was Mohammed Rafi number: Hai gali gali ke lab par tere husn ka fasana, which also did very well. We worked on Baharon mera jeevan bhi sanwaro [Aakhri Khat], a beautiful song, together. As a person, he had a lot of love for the poor. He was upset by the disparity between the rich and poor. And his poetry reflected his sentiments. He would complain: How could there be inequality in God's presence? His work is immortal. He spent almost his whole earnings on his village, Azamgarh, which is in Uttar Pradesh. He founded a school, a hospital and introduced computers there. India should be proud of him. Sardar Mallik (composer) Such a great poet! His writing was completely original. I loved listening to his ideas --- he spoke so beautifully. There was never any disparity between his actions and philosophy; what he wrote is what he said. He always said be it God or Allah or Bhagwan, this entity was big enough to look after everyone. He was unwilling to believe in a small God.

As told to Lata Khubchandani

Edited by Qwest - 13 years ago
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Posted: 13 years ago

Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi dead

Bharati Dubey in Mumbai Renowned poet and lyricist Kaifi Azmi died on Friday morning after a long illness at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. Azmi, 87, is survived by wife Shaukat, actress daughter Shabana and son Baba Azmi. Born Akhtar Hussain Rizvi, in Mijwan, in Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh district in 1915, Azmi penned his first poem at the age of 11. At 19, he joined the Communist Party of India as an active party worker. He arrived in Mumbai in 1943, when the Communist Party of India opened its head office in the city. He edited Mazdoor Mohalla and worked with Quami Jung (both Urdu newspapers). That year, he also published Jhankar, his first collection of verses. In 1948, Azmi started his career as a lyricist with Shaid Latif's Buzdil with the song Rote rote guzar gayi raat re. He went on to write songs for Kaagaz Ke Phool (Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam, Dekhi zamane ki yaari); Shama; Pakeezah (Chalte chalte yun hi koi mil gaya tha); Haqeeqat (Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo, ab tumhaare hawaale watan saathiyo), Heer Ranjha (Ye duniya ye mehfil); Aakhri Khat (Baharon mera jiwan sanwaaro); Kohraa (Ye nayan dare dare); Arth (Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho), Anupama (Dhire dhire machal aye dile beqarar). Azmi also wrote dialogues for Shyam Benegal's Manthan and M S Sathyu's Garam Hawa. His contributions to Indian literature span works such as Jhankar, Akhr-E-Shab, Awara Sajde and Sarmaya. He has been acclaimed and awarded for the preservation of Urdu poetry. His worked voiced his deep social concerns and secular sentiments. Azmi was conferred the Doctorate in Literature from Vishwa Bharati University, the Yuva Bharati from the Uttar Pradesh Government, the Lotus Award, Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar, Qainat Award and Sant Dhyaneshwar Award from the Maharashtra State Urdu Academy. The UP Government also named a road from Sultanpur to Phoolpur as the Kaifi Azmi Highway, in his honour. His daughter, renowned actress, social activist and Rajya Sabha MP Shabana Azmi and her husband poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar were not available for comment at the time of going to press. Son Baba Azmi is a renowned cinematographer whose works include films such as Shekar Kapur's Mr India, N Chandra's Tezaab, Boney Kapoor's Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and Prem, and Inder Kumar's Dil and Ishq. Baba's wife Tanvi is a reputed actress in her own right as well.

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.

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Tanvi, Baba Azmi nurture simple dreams
Aditi Tandon
Tanvi and Baba Azmi seem more like twins. Identical in their perceptions of cinema and their expectations from the medium, both man and wife speak of their celebrated origins with great modesty. While Baba Azmi, better known as the son of Kaifi Azmi and brother of Shabana Azmi, admits he will be proud to live in the shadow of his family, Tanvi, in all her humility, says she has never been daunted by Shabana's presence in her life. In Chandigarh with Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, Tanvi and Baba Azmi spoke about their shared concerns as artistes and harbingers of legendary Kaifi Azmi's dreams. In a revealing account Tanvi gave umpteen references to Kaifi's secular motives, the greatest being her own acceptance in a Muslim family. "I come from a Hindu family. Naturally we had a controversial marriage, but I don't recall a single instance where Abba sounded or appeared displeased. Indeed, he facilitated my entry all the time. For me, it was a cultural assimilation which I thoroughly enjoyed," Tanvi said, reliving the joy of moments spent under Kaifi's care. She added, "There was a certain aspect of his character which was never revealed to the world. He had a child like humour which enabled him to live on small pleasures. Often when asked to rate my acting talents in comparison to Shabana's he would sing my praises in my presence and vice versa." Perhaps Tanvi's cheekiness endeared her to Kaifi just as it endeared her to Baba who first shot her in the film "Pyari Behna". Baba says in a light vein, "Voh film Tanvi ko bahut bhari padi." An ace cinematographer who added class to films like "Hum Paanch", "Arjun", "Beta", "Dil", "Tezaab", "Mr India" and "Akele Hum…", Baba Azmi always took life as it came. Not a tad insecure of his sister's repute, he said he was proud to shoot her in "Anokha Bandhan", though she was not very comfortable with his camera skills. "She kept asking me if she was in focus," said Baba who is contemplating direction now. As a cinematographer he feels the stream had gained great respect. "The film is as much a cinematographer's baby as it is a director's. A healthy relationship between the two can work wonders," he said while referring to his passion for direction. In fact, he began his life as an assistant director with Chetan Anand, though he rediscovered his passion only recently after directing a song from Kaifi Azmi's anthology of poems "Pyar ka Jashn". While Baba Azmi is busy with commercials these days, Tanvi is getting ready to re-cast her spell. After a long hiatus she is weighing her options to make the best choices.

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.

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Straight from the heart

Rani Balbir Kaur's tribute to Kaifi Azmi revives the power of his poetry and personality. Aditi Tandon reports

A scene from Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam, a play on the life of Kaifi Azmi.
A scene from Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam, a play on the life of Kaifi Azmi.

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.

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Kaifi Aur Main
Director :  Ramesh Talwar
Cast :  Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Jaswinder Singh.

 

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.

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Silence in close up


Kaifi Azmi
1925-2002

M S Sathyu, filmmaker, speaks of Kaifi Azmi's political steadfastness, poetic integrity, and eloquent silences

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.

I met Sathyu for this tribute at his studio in Malleswaram, and here's what he said. -- SSL


I migrated to Bombay in 1952 and one of the first of the writers and poets I met was Kaifi Azmi. They were all living on a single floor of a big building, like in a chawl, and each person had a room. They had to live in that, with common toilets and things like that. Dedicated people working for a cause... it was a tremendous inspiration for me. I came from a totally different background, from Mysore, and then I had studied in Bangalore. Culturally and socially it was a totally different experience. I had the disadvantage of not knowing Hindi or Urdu. I knew a little bit, just a few words to manage, but I could not sit with these people and talk. That was the time I had to listen and learn a lot.

'He changed the style of Urdu poetry'

My interaction with Kaifi Azmi began in 1952. He was basically involved in politics and trade union activities. My concern was with theatre. I worked for different groups in different languages. Indian People's Theatre Association was very active in the '40s and the '50s. In the '60s IPTA's activities started dwindling, it had become almost dead, and we wanted to revive it somehow. We were looking for some occasion to do that. And 1969 turned out to be the Ghalib centenary year. Kaifi Saab wrote a play called Aakhri Shama about the last mushaira held in the Moghul Empire under Bahadur Shah Zafar. It later became very famous. Ghalib was one of the main characters in it.

Actors who had left started returning. Balraj Sahni and his Juhu Art Theatre colleagues joined IPTA. Ghalib's role was played by Balraj Sahni. This was Kaifi Saab's contribution. Since then IPTA has not looked back. This is the 60th year and we are celebrating it with a month-long multi-lingual theatre festival, from May 1 to June 3, in Mumbai.

I wanted to become a cameraman when I went to Bombay. But I never got an opportunity. Chetan Anand saw me working backstage, and wanted me to be his assistant director. I thought he wanted me to be a set designer. He was doing a film for the 2,500th birth anniversary of the Buddha. I said I didn't know anything about directing, but he said I would learn it. I protested that I couldn't read Hindi... I was very slow at it. He said doesn't matter, I have heard enough about you. So I started learning and picked it up. I can speak Urdu and Hindi in Bangalore quite confidently.

I don't know how much English Kaifi Saab understood: he never conversed in English. He was not worried about it. Language was not a problem in that way. He set a pattern for other Urdu poets, writers and intellectuals, who tried to imitate his style. After Ghalib, he was the only one who brought about a sea change in the whole pattern. All other poets had followed Ghalib and Mir until then. Kaifi Saab was totally modern in his style. Urdu poetry had fallen into clichs of style and imagery. He threw all that out and gave it a totally different direction.

Edited by Qwest - 13 years ago
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