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Shabana Azmi on father Kaifi Azmi: His songs had little philosophies of life

As a tribute to Kaifi Azmi, Shabana Azmi has kicked off a year-long celebration, commencing with Raag Shayari, a special evening of music and Kaifi's poetry conceived by Javed Akhtar.

Written by Komal RJ Panchal | Mumbai |
January 15, 2019 3:38:08 pm
shabana azmi with father kaifi azmi Shabana Azmi remembers her father Kaifi Azmi on his centenary birth anniversary. (Photo: Doordarshan Kisan/Twitter)

2019 marks the centenary birth anniversary of legendary writer-poet Kaifi Azmi. The icon, who was born on January 15, 1919, is credited for bringing Urdu literature to Indian films. On the special occasion, his daughter and veteran actor Shabana Azmi remembers him in an exclusive interview with

On remembering Kaifi Azmi as a part of the progressive writers’ movement

People like Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi and Jan Nisar Akhtar were not only writing film songs but were also people from the progressive writers’ movement. They believed that art should be used as an instrument for social change. They were people who were working towards social justice and equal opportunity.

My father was a member of the Communist Party, and the money that he used to earn would go to the party. He would be left with only Rs 40 a month. So, obviously when my brother and I were born, it was difficult for all of us to survive. This motivated him to start working in films. He started with Shaheed Latif’s 1951 film Buzdil.

On the romance of words in Hindi film songs, and it’s absence today

The beautiful thing is that their words were so beautiful, and they had the ability to simplify them in their songs. Hindi film songs for people from my generation, and even younger, are not just film songs, these are little gems held in our memories. These songs had little philosophies of life. They have taught us how to maneuver our way through life in times of sorrow, crisis, love and glory. Every time you hear these songs, specific memories related to them erupt.

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Today, unfortunately, the words don’t get the kind of importance they deserve. I think the way songs are being picturised has also changed completely. Most of them are picturised in the background, much like how it happens in Hollywood films. I think this is quite against the nature of Hindi films. Hindi film songs have a very important role to play in taking the story forward and expressing emotions that would otherwise be difficult to express in dialogue.

shabana azmi with father kaifi azmi Shabana Azmi with her father Kaifi Azmi. (Photo: Kaifi Azmi/Twitter)

I think we should pause to think, is it correct that we are removing these songs? Instead of getting rid of them, we should rather make space for these songs so that other cultures can take it from us. The way the songs are made today, they don’t have the words for you to remember them.

Your most cherished childhood memories of Kaifi Azmi

I have heard accounts of celebrity parents who, when they are working for a greater common good, are out there for the public. But when it comes to their own families, they are not available. That was not the case with Abba. He was always available to us. I remember walking into his study while he was in the midst of writing, and asking him some inane questions. He would put his pen down and take the trouble to happily answer those questions for me. Even when my mother was preparing her lines for theatre, he would help her with the lines every morning. Many a time there was a role reversal in my house. When my mother used to travel with her theatre group, my father would braid my hair, dress us up and send us to school.

When he retired, he went to Mijwan, a small village in Uttar Pradesh. This is where he was born. He had suffered brain hemorrhage, leaving his left arm and leg paralysed. But even in despair, he realised that Mijwan was frozen in time, and that he needed to work for the development of Mijwan. He was able to achieve a lot, but there were many obstacles coming his way. I remember asking him that when he is working for change and when it doesn’t happen at the pace he wanted it to happen, why doesn’t he get frustrated. He told me ‘Bete, when you are working for change, and when it doesn’t happen at the pace you want it to happen, don’t get frustrated! You should build in the possibility that change might not occur in your lifetime. You must have the conviction and carry on working with sincerity. Change will happen, even if it happens after you are gone.’ And that’s my mantra.

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