Kaifi Azmi – Profile
Amongst the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century, Kaifi Azmi also penned lyrics and scripts for some of Hindi cinema’s masterworks. His cinematic work, though not voluminous, is regarded as timeless for its touching simplicity, eternal optimism, and lyrical grace.
Azmi was born Athar Husain Rizvi in Mijwan, a village in the Azamgarh district of present-day Uttar Pradesh. Though belonging to a landed family, he was drawn, since childhood, to the leftist ideology. Azmi’s family wanted him to become a cleric and thus admitted him to a seminary. However, he gave up formal education in the wake of the Quit India movement and joined the Communist Party of India.
Azmi moved to Bombay in the early 1940s to become a trade union worker. He did a stint with the Communist Party’s Urdu papers, Quami Jung and Mazdoor Mohalla. He also became closely associated with the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) and the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA), even acting in plays with the likes of Balraj Sahni.
Financial compulsions led Azmi to write the lyrics for Shaheed Latif’s Buzdil. He is best remembered for the classic songs he wrote subsequently, including Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam (Kaagaz Ke Phool), Chalte chalte yunhi koi (Pakeezah), Dheere dheere machal ae dil-e-bekaraar (Anupama), and Koi ye kaise bataye ki woh tanha kyon hain (Arth).
As a writer for films, Azmi’s best-known work is the critically acclaimed Garam Hawa, which won him and co-writer Ismat Chughtai the 1973 National Film Award for Best Story, as well as the 1974 Filmfare awards for Best Story, Best Screenplay Writer, and Best Dialogue Writer.
Azmi starred in a major role in Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Naseem, a powerful tale of a Muslim family’s fears as they watch the communal frenzy in the days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Amongst Azmi’s many awards were the Soviet Land Nehru Award (1975), the Sahitya Akademi Award (1975) for his anthology Awara Sajde, and the Padma Shri. In April 2002, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship.
Azmi was married to former IPTA stage actress Shaukat; their daughter is the noted actress Shabana Azmi.