Kaifi Azami

Urdu literary giant Kaifi Azmi died on Friday, 10 May, in Mumbai. He was 87.

Kaifi Azmi is widely considered one of India's greatest film lyricists. He was respected in Urdu poetry circles also.

He was a committed leftist, perhaps more so than Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. He seemed indifferent to success in films. His social and secular concerns placed him at a great distance from assembly-line lyricists. "He was today's Mirza Ghalib," music composer Khayyam said in a tribute.

Azmi had been ailing for some years. He died at Jaslok Hospital at 7 a.m.

His actress-daughter Shabana is an MP, and his son, Baba, is a cinematographer with films like Mr India and Tezaab to his credit.

Kaifi Azmi was an activist-poet, and his work in public life was recognised in unexpected ways, as when the Uttar Pradesh government named a stretch of an important highway after him. He spent all his earnings on his village Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, where he founded a school and a hospital.

Filmmaker Guru Dutt, who had a legendary ear for poetry, got Azmi to write for almost all his films.

Waqt ne kiya, kya hasin sitam, a melancholic contemplation of the changes wrought by time, became one of the biggest hits of the Azmi-Dutt team.

Azmi wrote songs like Yeh duniya yeh mehfil for Heer Ranjha, an experimental film done entirely in verse. (Vikram Seth attempted something similar in the novel form, writing an entire book in sonnets).

Vijay Anand's under-production Jaana Na Dil Se Door has songs by Azmi.

Azmi was associated with the Indian People's Theatre Association and was an active member of the Communist Party of India, which he joined when he was 19.

He arrived in Mumbai in 1943, when the Communist Party of India opened its head office in the city. He edited an Urdu newspaper called Mazdoor Mohalla. In 1948, Azmi started his career as a lyricist with Shaid Latif's Buzdil.

Azmi also wrote dialogues for Shyam Benegal's Manthan and M S Sathyu's Garam Hawa.

Azmi's poetry had a romantic, mystical appeal, and never degenerated into propaganda or dumb verse. For instance, in his Anupama number Kuch dil ne kaha, kuch bhi nahin, the poem withdraws from what the character says, and then says more in ellipses.

Some Kaifi Azmi gems:

Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam (Kaagaz ke Phool)

Chalte chalte yun hi koi mil gaya tha (Pakeezah)

Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo (Haqeeqat)

Ye duniya ye mehfil (Heer Ranjha)

Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho (Arth)

Dhire dhire machal aye dile beqarar (Anupama)

Kaifi Azmi is another jewel from the lanes of Lucknow, who has stamped his indelible mark in poetry and literature. I always thought all these leftist have precious little to boast about apart from religiously opposing every thing under the Sun, but this comrade was clearly different from the rest of his flock.

However, he was born in Azamgadh, and later shifted to Lucknow. His first gazal, at that age eleven, was an impromptu, that too in a mushaira, which was later sung by legendry Mallika-e-Gazal, Begam Akhtar, another legend from Lucknow. The gazal went on to become one of his most popular one - 'Itna to Zindagi Mein Kisiki Khalal Pade, Hasne Se Ho Sukoon Na Rone Se Kal Pade..'

He has worked both as writer and lyricist in the films. As the writer he has won the National Award and lot of critical acclaim for M.S. Sathyu's Garam Hawa. Another accomplishment was Heer Ranjha; the entire dialogue of the film was in verse. He also wrote dialogues for Shyam Benegal's Manthan.

Memorable Songs

Arth -"Tum Itanaa Jo Muskuraa Rahe Ho ", and "Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar, Bekarar Hai Ki Nahin";

Kagaz Ke Phool -"Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Hasin Sitam", "Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari, Bichhdey Sabhi Bari Bari";

Haqeeqat - "Kar chaley Hum Fida Jan-O-Tan Sathiyon", "Zara Si Ahat Hoti Hai To Dil Sonchta Hai", "Hokey Mazboor Mujhey Usney Bukaya Hoga";

Hanste Zakhm - "Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho", "Betaab Dil Ki Tamanna", "Haan, Yeh Mana Meri Jaan Mohabbat Saza Hai";

Heer Ranjha - "Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehphil, Merey Kaam Ki Nahin", "Milo Na Tumto Hum Ghabrai";

Pakeezah - "Chalte Chalte Yun Hi Koi Mil Gaya Tha";

Anupama - "Dhire Dhire Machal AyeDile Beqarar Koi Aata Hai", "Ya Dil Ki Suno Duniya Walon";

Aakhri Khat - "Baharon Mera Jiwan Sanwaaro";

Tootey Khilauney - "Mana Ki Tum Ho Behad Hansi, Aise Burey Hum Bhi Nahin";

Parwana - "Simti Si, Sharmai Si, Kis Duniya Se Tum Aayi Ho", "Yun Na Sharma, Phailaa De Apni Bahein";

His wife Shaukat Azmi is herself an actress, so is his daughter Shabana Azmi. His 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 Azmi is also an actress. Not to forget son-in-law Javed Akhtar. Family full of talent.

Azmi Saab's stint in film includes working as lyricist, writer and almost an actor! His early work as storywriter 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. Kaifi 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 '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 pimples 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 Azmi passed away in Mumbai on May 10, 2002 following cardiac and respiratory infection. Time waits for none. This time it was Kaifi Azmi, the poet extraordinaire, who had to move on. Death came after a prolonged illness of 45 days.


Kaifi Azmi has won various awards and has been honoured by various national and international awards. This include the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Award, the Soviet Land Nehru Award, 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 has won the National Award and the Filmfare Award for the screenplay and dialogue of Garam Hawa. Azmi was also the subject of a documentary film called Kaifi Azmi (1979), directed by Raman Kumar.