Pyaar ka jashn, nai tarah manana hoga, gham kisi dil mein sahi, gham ko mitana hoga (New ways must be found to celebrate love, grief in whosever’s heart must be erased).”
These lines by poet-lyricist Kaifi Azmi is close to Shabana Azmi’s heart, which she recited while talking to us. To celebrate the 98th birth anniversary of Kaifi Azmi, Jashn-e-Kaifi, a mehfil of music and poetry was being held at the late Kaifi Azmi’s cottage in Juhu on January 14. Shabana and Baba Azmi talk to HT Café about the event, their childhood memories and their father Kaifi Azmi.
The rich legacy
Talking about Jashn-e-Kaifi, Baba Azmi, who is a cinematographer, says, “My parents’ house has always been open to strugglers and new talents. They always supported creative talent — irrespective of whether they were from the field of music, acting or anything else. I have seen strugglers come and live here [in his parents’ house]. The idea of having a celebration on his birth anniversary every year is to try and get new singers, who are not getting a platform [to perform]. It’s a non-commercial event and something that comes straight from my heart.”
Walking down memory lane, Shabana shares, “The house used to be a cultural hub in our growing up years. This is the cottage in which we have had late legends such as Begum Akhtar, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Guru Dutt, Chetan Anand, SD Burman, Madan Mohan, Balraj Sahni and MF Husain, among others, as house guests. It was filled with people from the cultural scene. It was a house people could always walk in.”
Baba adds, “My parents and particularly my mother [Shaukat Kaifi] were very encouraging of newcomers. After my father passed away, things obviously changed. And now, my attempt is to restore it into the cultural hub that it once used to be.”
More than a father
Talking about the bond, both Baba and she shared with their parents, Shabana says, “We have been extremely close to our parents. My father was my guru, my mentor and also my friend. I would always depend on him if I had a problem, and he would give me his objective and opinion. He was very encouraging and fond of both his children.”
So, was he supportive of her decision to become an actor? “I remember when I asked him, ‘I would like to become an actor, will you support me’? He said, ‘Even if you have to become a shoemaker, I’ll support you, provided you tell yourself that you’ll be the best shoemaker in the business’. That was the kind of instinctive support that we got from him,” recalls Shabana.
Closet funny man
We all know Kaifi for his poetry, but he had a “humorous” side that “only few people know about”, says Shabana. “He was funny and would have me in splits all the time. He was also a prankster. On April 1, he would always inevitably manage to make a fool of me. Although, I used to think every year, ‘I have to be aware’, but every time he would manage to fool me. Ours was a close-knit family. The four of us were a unit and we have been very close,” says the actor.
Power of words
Kaifi Azmi penned down several popular songs in Hindi cinema such as ‘Chalte chalte yunhi koi mil gaya tha’ (Pakeezah; 1972), ‘Yeh duniya yeh mehfil’ (Heer Ranjha; 1970) and ‘Milo na tum to hum ghabraye’ (Heer Raanjha; 1970), among others. Talking about the song ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho’ (Arth; 1982), which was also written by her father, Shabana says, “When you are enacting a song, the words of the song should be such that they touch your heart. Then, there is little that the actor has to do. I remember when I was doing Arth… there is a song in it, ‘Tum itna jo’. Such simple lines and it is such a powerful situation [in the movie]. It is my character’s birthday and her husband has handed her divorce papers, without even remembering it’s her birthday. And see how beautifully Raj Kiran has enacted that song in the film. It is absolutely brilliant. Even today, when I hear the first few lines [of the song], I burst into tears. It connects immediately.”
Elaborating on her father’s poetry, the actor says, “The interesting thing about Kaifi, as a lyricist, is while he is romantic and surrenders himself to beauty, he also has the vanity of ishq (love). There is an interesting connect of love and romance [in his poetry]. Where are those expressions today?”