Remembering Kaifi Azmi on his 17th death anniversary.

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Sayyid Akhtar Hussein Rizvi, known as Kaifi Azmi (14th January 1919–10 May 2002) was an Urdu poet. He is remembered as the one who brought Urdu literature to Indian motion pictures. Together with Pirzada Qasim, Jon Elia and others he participated in the most memorable mushairas of the twentieth century.

Azmi’s work in films includes working as a lyricist, writer and actor. Azmi wrote his first lyrics for the film Buzdil, directed by Shaheed Latif and music by SD Burman, released in 1951. His early work as a writer was mainly for Nanubhai Vakil’s films like Yahudi Ki Beti (1956), Parvin (1957), Miss Punjab Mail (1958) and Id Ka Chand (1958). While directors like Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Bimal Roy strove to create the “New Cinema”, writers like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Kaifi changed the tenor and vocabulary of the Hindi film song, creating a fresh new wave in Hindi film lyrics that lasted many years. His greatest feat as a writer was Chetan Anand’s Heer Raanjha (1970) wherein the entire dialogue of the film was in verse.

It was a tremendous achievement and one of the greatest feats of Hindi film writing. Azmi 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. Azmi also wrote the dialogues for Shyam Benegal’s Manthan (1976) and Sathyu’s Kanneshwara Rama (1977). As a lyricist and songwriter, though he wrote for numerous films, he will always be remembered for Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Chetan Anand’s Haqeeqat (1964), India’s greatest war film. Some notables films for which he wrote lyrics include Kohra (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). For Naunihal (1967), he wrote the song “Meri Aawaz Suno Pyar ka Raaz Suno” (Hear my voice, hear the secret of love) sung by Mohammad Rafi.

The song is picturised over the funeral procession of Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru. Years later, after Azmi’s own death his daughter, Shabana Azmi mentioned finding comfort in verses from the song. He also played a memorable role of Naseem’s grandfather in Naseem (1995). Azmi died on 10 May 2002 at around the age of eighty three. He was survived by his wife, daughter and son. His autobiography is included in a collection of his works, Aaj Ke Prashid Shayar: Kaifi Azmi.

Celebrating Cinema

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