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5 Kaifi Azmi songs that capture the different shades of life – Birth centenary special

On the birth centenary of poet-lyricist Kaifi Azmi, we look at five songs that capture his views on different aspects of life and philosophy.

Shriram Iyengar

In the age of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz and Sahir Ludhianvi, for an Urdu poet to rise above the ranks and establish his name would not have been easy. But the late Kaifi Azmi managed to do it with such style and simplicity that he has become a byword for the ideal romantic and revolutionary in poetry.

Born on 14 January 1919 in Mizwaan, Uttar Pradesh, Kaifi Azmi wrote his first ghazal at the tender age of 11. As he grew older, his life experiences shaped the nature of his poetry. From the revolutionary to the romantic and the empathetic, the poet captured the several shades of life and humanism in his work.

Padma Shri Kaifi Azmi, also a Sahitya Akademi award-winner, was a key part of the revolution in Hindi cinema's lyrical quality. With Sahir Ludhianvi, a rival and colleague, he crafted a new wave of metaphorical lyrics that would colour Hindi cinema of the age. 

On his birth centenary today, we take a look at just five songs that capture the different moods of the poet's humanism.

1. For the rebel

In the film Anupama (1966), directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Kaifi Azmi crafted the beautifully melancholic song 'Ya Dil Ki Suno' about a rebel who walks away from celebrations to speak about the truth of life. Where rebels were often portrayed with fire and brimstone, Azmi crafted his revolution with the soft sensitivity that belies the power of the truth he speaks. 

Composed and sung by Hemant Kumar Mukherjee, the song remains a touching tribute to Kaifi Azmi's ability to raise the issue without raising the voice. 

2. For the storyteller 

Pakeezah (1972) is a film known for the last magical performance by the silver screen legend Meena Kumari. For a film of such lyrical quality, Kamal Amrohi approached Kaifi Azmi to create lyrics.

The song 'Yunhi Koi Mil Gaya Tha', in particular, is wonderful for the meta-narrative nature of storytelling within a story. As the courtesan narrates the story of how she met a stranger and fell in love, Azmi's playfulness emerges through his words.

Simple and elegant, the song is given a touch of brilliance by the vision of Kamal Amrohi. It brings you in touch with the playful, romantic aspect of the poet who was better known for his lofty and idealistic poems.

3. For the lover 

For Arth (1982), Mahesh Bhatt chose Kaifi Azmi to be the lyricist for a tumultous love story. The film captured the side of romance that is more pathos than euphoria. The sadness and longing could not be conveyed better than through the song 'Jhuki Jhuki Si Nazar'. Picturized on Kaifi Azmi's supremely gifted daughter Shabana and Raj Kiran, the song still has the eternal feeling of longing that his poetry imbued it with.

A poet with the ability to say things simply, Kaifi Azmi could also use the most beautiful allegories to enrich his verses. Sung by the late ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh, whose control over pauses to enrich the meaning of a verse remains unparalleled, the song acquires a touch of beauty.

4. For the future

In the age of #MeToo, it is difficult to find poems that do not treat the woman as an object of desire or the care-giver. For Kaifi Azmi, she was an equal participant in his revolution. As he described in one of his famous nazms, 'Aurat (Woman)', the woman needs to walk alongside the man. It is only when she breaks her shackles that freedom will be truly achieved. 

In his own baritone, the poem captures the vision of Kaifi Azmi which set him apart from his peers Faiz and Faraz, who saw revolution as love or love as revolution.

5. For the patriot 

'Kar Chale Hum Fida', one of the most popular numbers on patriotism and duty, was part of Chetan Anand's Haqeeqat (1964). The film was based on India's infamous defeat to China in 1962, but Chetan Anand also portrayed it as a moment of sacrifice and pride. To which Kaifi Azmi gave this song rendered brilliantly by Mohammed Rafi.

The song arrives as the denouement of the film during which many of its heroes have laid down their lives for the country. In a moment that is heartrending, Azmi's lyrics acquire new significance.

While there have been others like the soldier-turned-poet Anand Bakshi who have approached patriotism with a more jingoistic verve, Kaifi Azmi's lyrics offer the promise of a future, but with a cautionary note. The caution lies in people performing their duty, doing their best for their country.