Poetry on celluloid


 VISIONARY Kaifi Azmi’s work reflected his sense of human concern,  lyricism and hope. Leading shayars like Shakeel Badauni, Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri ruled the roost as top lyricists. A glorious addition to this already illustrious list in the 50s was Kaifi Azmi, a brilliant poet and visionary in his own right. With leftist views imbibed from his long association with Indian People’s Theatre Association, Kaifi Azmi first penned lyrics for Apna Haath Jagananth, which were tuned melodiously by S D Burman. The most famous tune of the film was Tujhe Mili Roshni, rendered sonorously by Asha Bhonsle. The film failed to make a mark at the box-office, despite its melodious soundtrack.

Pathbreaking lyrics

Guru Dutt did not fail to notice talented Kaifi Azmi and assigned him to pen the lyrics of his most ambitious venture, Kagaz Ke Phool, in 1960. Working on a film which was off-beat and raised questions about the film world, Kaifi excelled with Waqt Ne Kiya and Dekh Li Zamane Ki Yari. Sadly, Kagaz Ke Phool did not perform well at the box-office.

Kaifi Azmi was uncertain about his career as a lyricist. Suddenly, there were no takers for his work. Chetan Anand, who knew him well since his IPTA days, requested Kaifi Azmi to pen lyrics for his magnum opus, Hakeekat, the first major war film in India with the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict forming the backdrop. S D Burman came to Chetan Anand and warned him not to opt for Kaifi Azmi as he did not have many hit films to his credit. But Chetan Anand was undaunted and went ahead with Kaifi Azmi who, at last, found his musical soul in Madan Mohan, who composed all the songs of Hakeekat.

And the rest is history. Together, Kaifi Azmi and Madan Mohan stunned the music world with their Hoke Majboor Mujhe, Main Yeh Soch Kar and Ayi Kaisi Kali Diwali. The songs of Hakeekat, seeping with pathos and patriotism, sky rocketed Kaifi Azmi’s career as a lyricist. His next memorable creations were for Anupama, which were brilliantly composed by Hemant Kumar. The haunting numbers included Ya Dil Ki Suno, Dhire Dhire Machal and Kuch Dil Ne Kaha. He also penned lyrics for the mystical Kohra, which is still remembered for its song O Bekarar Dil.

Chetan Anand experimented with Kaifi Azmi and Khayyam in Aakhri Khat. The tale of a lost child formed a backdrop to songs like Baharon Mera Jeevan Bhi and the catchy, Jawan Jawan Raat Jawan. These tracks were picturised effectively by Chetan Anand on Indrani Mukherjee and Bhupendra Singh.

Perhaps the most fabulous creation of Kaifi Azmi was his poetry on celluloid, Heer Ranjha. The entire film was penned by Kaifi Azmi for Chetan Anand, who wrote the screenplay and directed it with finesse. Heer Ranjha had all-time memorable hits by the duo, Kaifi Azmi and Madan Mohan, like Yeh Duniya, Yeh Mehfil, Milo Na Tum To and Chalke Chalke.
Though Chetan Anand, Kaifi Azmi and Madan Mohan worked together again in Hanste Zakham and Hindustan Ki Kasam, they could not recreate the magic of Hakeekat and Heer Ranjha. There were, of course, lilting melodies in both films like Tum Jo Mil Gaye, Aaj Socha, Har Taraf and the unforgettable Duniya Banane Wale, rendered by Lata Mangeshkar, which moved Salil Chowdhury so much that he was in tears after listening to the song.

Kaifi Azmi maintained his standard as a lyricist in Pakeezah and Bawarchi. The comic song with pure western interludes sung by Kishore Kumar, Namaste Namaste O Daddy, and composed by Madan Mohan,  was a master creation. M S Sathyu, who was a chief assistant of Chetan Anand, worked wonders with Kaifi Azmi’s writing abilities for the script of Garm Hawa. The film’s script vividly depicted the Partition and showcased Kaifi Azmi’s talents as an imaginative and non-compromising writer.

Besides cinema, Kaifi Azmi wrote many books on poetry and one of them was dedicated to the regal beauty, Priya Rajvansh, discovered by Chetan Anand, who cast her in Hakeekat. He was awarded the Sahitya Academy and also judged the best Afro-Asian poet in the late 70s. Satyajit Ray complimented him for his sense of human concern, lyricism and hope, which he generated amongst countless readers and admirers. Kaifi Azmi was also an actor. He acted brilliantly (a cameo) in the film Naseem in 1995, directed by Sayeed Akhtar Mirza.

It might be that Kaifi Azmi’s association with the film industry as a lyricist made him drift away from his original leftist line. A few ultras criticised Kaifi Azmi for compromising with meaningless and fake romanticism. But he was applauded for all his work during this time and still is. In fact, his daughter Shabana Azmi and his son-in-law Javed Akhtar are still inspired by his haunting poems, which rank far superior to anyone’s from the present generation.

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