BENGALURU: Back then, even film songs were ghazals. Today’s songs are... Allah miya,” exclaimed Shabana Azmi, as she spoke about the lyrics her father Kaifi Azmi penned for Hindi movies. In town for an event celebrating the centenary year of Kaifi Azmi – organised by Bangalore International Centre and Museum of Art and Photography — the actor treated the audience to a poetry session of her father’s poems, which was followed by a screening of Kaifinama, a documentary on Kaifi Azmi, directed by Sumantra Ghosal.
Recalling one of his most popular songs, Azmi said, “S D Burman had just come up with a tune, and right there, Kaifi saab wrote some of the lyrics but there was no situation to use it. Guru Dutt, however, was so enamoured with the song that he asked Kaifi saab to finish it and said he would create a situation for the song.” As she revealed the song – Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam from Kaagaz Ke Phool – the audience let out a collective sigh.
In between readings, Azmi shared more such memories associated with his poems like Aurat (“My mother heard this in Hyderabad the first time she set her eyes on him and decided all on her own that it was written for her”), Ek Lamha! (“Drinking tea was a ceremony in my house, it was a very intimate moment my parents shared and even we kids realised it was just their time”) and Makaan (a poem that, in turn, inspired Azmi’s efforts in helping slum dwellers). Her fondness for these poems was evident in her lack of need to refer to any material for it, almost like they were etched in her memory. While she read selected portions in Urdu, Ghosal, who was also present, read out the English translations of it.
Speaking to CE about the current state of Urdu in India, Azmi said it was sad that the language was pushed into becoming a language of Muslims. “A language belongs to a region, not a religion,” she said, recounting the time her father returned his Padma Shri after a minister’s statement against Urdu becoming the second language in a state. “A minister declared that anyone who felt this way must have his face blackened and must ride the city on a donkey. Offended, my father decided to return his award,” she said.
But today, Urdu festivals like Jashn-e-Rekhta are promoting the language, and have gained quite an audience. “And lots of them are youngsters, so that makes me happy,” added Azmi.
Growing up listening to her father’s poetry also had a direct influence on her work. “For example, Aurat was written at a time when women were expected to look after the home, and men were expected to toil. Kaifi saab wrote about how both the man and woman have to march together. So, my work in the women’s movement has been directly informed by him,” she said.
Calling her father an unmaterialistic man, Azmi revealed that he did have a fondness for Mont Blanc pens and even went on to claim one of her pens as his own. But amid memories that bring her laughter today, is another one that has remained with her long after his passing in 2002. “I once asked him if he ever got frustrated when change didn’t occur at the pace he wanted it to. He told me that one must have the confidence that if they work sincerely, change would occur, even if it does so after they are gone. That has become my mantra today,” she said.