Athar Hussein Rizvi (14 January 1919 – 10 May 2002), known as Kaifi Azmi, was an Urdu Indian poet. Kaifi Azmi is known as the one who introduced Urdu literature to Indian movie images. Together with Pirzada Qasim, Jaun Elia and others Kaifi Azmi took part in several popular twentieth-century Mushaira gatherings.
Kaifi Azmi was born into a Muslim Shia family in Mizwaan village, in Uttar Pradesh district of Azamgarh.
It was Shaukat Azmi who married Azmi. They have a daughter, the actress Shabana Azmi, and a son, the cinematographer Baba Azmi. The actress Tanvi Azmi is Azmi’s daughter-in-law.
At the age of eleven, Azmi wrote his first ghazal in Bahraich “Itna To Zindagi Mein Kisi Ki Khalal Pade” and somehow managed to get himself invited to a mushaira and there recited a ghazal, just a few of the ghazal that was much appreciated by the president of the mushaira, Mani Jaisi, but most people including his father thought he was reciting his elder brother’s ghazal. When this was denied by his elder brother, his father and clerk Shauq Bahraichi decided to test his poetic talent. They gave him one of a couplet ‘s lines and asked him to write in the same meter and rhyme a ghazal.
Azmi accepted the challenge and had a ghazal done. This particular ghazal was to become a rage in undivided India and was immortalized as the legendary ghazal singer “Begum Akthar” sang it. During the Quit India agitations in 1942, Azmi abandoned his studies of Persian and Urdu and soon afterwards became a full-time Marxist when in 1943, Kaifi Azmi accepted membership of the Communist Party of India. During this period Kaifi Azmi was noticed by Lucknow ‘s leading progressive writers.
His leadership qualities have impressed them greatly. They also saw a budding poet in him and extended him to all possible encouragement. As a result, Azmi began to win great acclaim as a poet and became a member of the Indian ‘Progressive Writers’ Movement. He started work in the textile mill areas of Kanpur at the age of twenty-four. Kaifi Azmi left his life of comfort as a full-time worker though Kaifi Azmi was the son of a zamindar. Kaifi Azmi was asked to move his base to Bombay, work among the workers, and begin party work with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm.
Like most Urdu poets, Azmi started out as a ghazal writer, cramming his poetry with the repetitive themes of love and romance in a style full of clichés and metaphors. Yet his association with the Movement of Progressive Writers and the Communist Party made him embark on the path of socially conscious poetry.
In his verse, he emphasises the oppression of the subaltern masses and through them, by undermining the current one, Kaifi Azmi conveys a message of establishing just social order. And one can’t call his poetry pure propaganda. It has its own merits; in particular, the intensity of emotions and the spirit of sympathy and compassion for the disadvantaged sections of society are the hallmarks of his poetry.
His poems are also noteworthy for their rich imagery and his contribution to Urdu poetry can hardly be overestimated in this respect. The first collection of poems by Azmi, Jhankar, was released in 1943. Kaifi Azmi main works, including poetry anthologies, were Aakhir-e-Shab, Sarmaya, Awaara Sajde, Kaifiyaat, Nai Gulistan, an anthology of articles Kaifi Azmi wrote for Urdu Blitz, Meri Awaaz Suno, a collection of his movie lyrics, and Heer Ranjha’s script.
His most famous poems are Aurat, Makaan, Daaera and Snap.
Azmi’s film work encompasses working as a lyricist, writer and actor. Azmi wrote his first lyrics for the 1951 release of film Buzdil, directed by Shaheed Latif and music by SD Burman. His early work as a writer was mainly for films such as Yahudi Ki Beti (1956), Parvin (1957), Miss Punjab Mail (1958) and I d Ka Chand (1958), by Nanubhai Vakil. Though directors such as Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Bimal Roy tried to create the “Modern Cinema,” writers such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Kaifi Azmi changed the Hindi film song’s tenor and vocabulary, creating a new wave in Hindi film lyrics that lasted for many years. His greatest achievement as a writer was Chetan Anand’s Heer Raanjha (1970), in which the film’s entire dialogue was in verse. It was a remarkable accomplishment and one of Hindi film writing ‘s greatest exploits.
Azmi also won big critical accolades for M.S ‘script, dialogues, and lyrics. Garam Hawa (1973) from Sathyu based on a storey by Ismat Chughtai. Azmi has also written the dialogues for Manthan of Shyam Benegal (1976) and Kanneshwara Rama of Sathyu (1977). As a lyricist and songwriter, though Kaifi Azmi has written for numerous films, Kaifi Azmi will always be remembered for Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) by Guru Dutt and Haqeeqat (1964) by Chetan Anand, India’s greatest war movie. Cohra (1964), Anupama (1966), Uski Kahani (1966), Saat Hindustani (1969), Shola Aur Shabnam, Parwana (1971), Bawarchi (1972), Pakeezah (1972), Hanste Zakhm (1973), Arth (1982) and Razia Sultan (1983) are some notable films for which Kaifi Azmi wrote lyrics. Kaifi Azmi wrote the song “Meri Aawaz Suno Pyar ka Raaz Suno” chanted by Mohammad Rafi for Naunihal (1967).
The song is pictured over Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s funeral procession. Years later, after his daughter Azmi’s own death, Shabana Azmi reported finding comfort in verses from the song. In Naseem (1995) Kaifi Azmi also played a memorable role as Naseem ‘s grandfather. A collection of his works includes his autobiography, Aaj Ke Prashid Shayar: Kaifi Azmi.
Azmi was the subject of a documentary film, directed by Raman Kumar, named Diksha (2015). Kaifi Azmi recited his own poems for Kaifiyaat, an audiobook about his collected works, in 1997.
Kaifi Aur Mein, a play based on his life, his works and his wife’s memory Shaukat Azmi – Yadon Ki Rahguzar was written and performed by Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi, and performed both in India and abroad in 2006. Another play, directed by Rani Balbir, Waqt Ne Kiya Hasin Sitam based on Kaifi Azmi ‘s life and writings, was performed in 2005 and received rave reviews.
Kaifi Azmi has been the recipient of Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award in India. In addition, Kaifi Azmi has received the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Award and the Sahitya Akademi Award for Urdu for his Awaara Sajde collection, the Maharashtra Urdu Academy Special Award, the Soviet Land Nehru Award, the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association Lotus Award, and the National Integration President’s Award. In 1998, Maharashtra ‘s government handed him the Jyaneshwara Medal. Kaifi Azmi was also honoured for his lifetime achievement with the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Fellowship.
In 2000, the Government of Delhi and Delhi Urdu Academy awarded him the first Millennium Award. Kaifi Azmi was also awarded a doctorate from the University of Vishva Bharati, Santiniketan.
The government also inaugurated a train called “Kaifiyat Express,” which runs from Azamgarh to Old Delhi, his hometown.
Google’s search engine on 14 January 2020 commemorated Kaifi Azmi with a Doodle on his 101st birthday. Google commented: “With work ranging from passionate love poems and activist verses to Bollywood song lyrics and screenplays, Azmi has become one of India’s most renowned poets of the 20th century, and his humanitarian efforts continue to have an impact on the lives of people today.”
Sahitya Akademi Award:
. 1975: Sahitya Akademi Award: Awara Sajde
. 2002: Sahitya Akademi Fellowship
National Film Awards Edit:
. 1970: National Film Award for Best Lyrics: Saat Hindustani
Kaifi Azmi died at about the age of eighty-three on 10 May 2002. His wife, daughter and son survived.