With the passing away of theatre and film actor Shaukat Kaifi, 91, at her Juhu residence on Friday afternoon, India lost one of the last key associates of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and the Progressive Writers Association. Shaukat, who was not keeping well for some time, is survived by her children, actress Shabana Azmi and cinematographer Baba Azmi.
Theatre actor and director M K Raina said, “An era of progressive movement and culture went with her. She was among one of the last artistes to participate in the IPTA movement. She was a great inspiration to youngsters who would come to meet her either in Bombay or when she went for IPTA meetings with her husband Kaifi Azmi. I was invited to two such meets, in Jaipur and Patna, many years ago. She was one of the finest actors on stage and in films. When you look at her life, you realise what sacrifices they (Shaukat and Kaifi) made early in their lives.”
Theatre person and screen writer Shama Zaidi had collaborated with Shaukat in several IPTA plays as well as Garm Hava (1974), a significant movie that the latter acted in apart from other much-appreciated movies such as Bazaar (1982) and Umrao Jaan (1981). “Because of Shaukat’s illness I had not been able to meet her often recently. She was a vivacious person. She had a group called Gariban Ka Club. Its only rule was that the members would talk nonsense. She was a happy-go-lucky person and a fantastic actor,” Zaidi said.
Shaukat acted in many IPTA plays such as Aazar Ka Khwab and Tanhai. Before IPTA, she was also associated with Prithvi theatre group. “She used to be very involved with the roles she played,” said Zaidi.
Theatre director and playwright Bhanu Bharti deeply admired Shaukat’s commitment to theatre. “She belonged to a generation that shaped and contributed to the stage. They achieved so much in terms of creating awareness about people on various issues while being conscious of their art of theatre,” Bharti said.
Author and literary historian Rakhshanda Jalil was struck by “this young chulbuli girl from a well-to-do Hyderabadi family” while working on a thesis on Progressive Writers. “Shaukat met Kaifi in the ‘40s during a mushaira during the Progressive Writers’ conference. She describes beautifully in her memoir Kaifi Aur Main how they fell in love. This ebullient girl transformed into a comrade’s wife,” Jalil said.
In Kaifi Aur Main, which was translated as Kaifi and I (published by Penguin), she wrote about living in a commune and shifting to Mumbai. After the wedding, which could take place after contributions that amounted to Rs 100, from CPI party members, Shaukat adapted to the life of a commune. When Kaifi was underground, she worked and raised their two children.
For Jalil, a personality like Shaukat and her partnership with Kaifi were very aspirational for women of the following
“Shaukat talks about P C Joshi saying the comrade’s wife cannot sit idle. He encourages her to join IPTA. Shabana has spoken wonderfully about how her father stayed at home and wrote while her mother went out to do theatre and work. This was very natural feminism, very organic,” said Jalil.
Himanshu Bajpai, daastango and author, who recently presented a new Daastan-e-Kaifi based on Kaifi Azmi, believes that Shaukat became an important voice with IPTA, and her memoir, Yaad Ki Rahguzar, remains one the most inspirational writings by women.
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