Kaifi Azmi
Athar Husain Rizvi[1]

(1919-01-14)14 January 1919
Died10 May 2002(2002-05-10) (aged 83)
  • Poet
  • lyricist
  • songwriter
Political partyCommunist Party of India
AwardsNational Film Award for Best Lyrics (1970)
Padma Shri (1974)
Sahitya Akademi Award (1975)
Sahitya Akademi Fellow (2002)

Kaifi Azmi (born Athar Husain Rizvi; 14 January 1919 – 10 May 2002) was an Indian Urdu poet. He is remembered as the one who brought Urdu literature to Indian motion pictures.[2] Together with Pirzada Qasim, Jaun Elia and others he participated in many memorable Mushaira gatherings of the twentieth century.[3][4] His wife was theatre and film actress Shaukat Kaifi.[5]


Early life

Azmi was born into a Shia Muslim family in the village of Mijwan in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. He got his title from the city of the same name.[2][6]


He was from a family of artists. His three brothers are also shayars (poets). Azmi was married to Shaukat Azmi. They have a daughter, Shabana Azmi who is an actress,[2] and a son, Baba Azmi, a cinematographer. Azmi's daughter-in-law Tanvi Azmi is also an actress.[6][5]

During Partition, he was underground in Aurangabad, as he was hounded by the British police for being a "card-carrying communist". His parents and his five brothers took the ship from Bombay to Karachi. By the time he surfaced, their ship had left.[7]

He was denied a visa for Pakistan for several years despite the fact that his family lived there,[8] because he was a communist.



At age eleven, Azmi wrote his first ghazal in Bahraich Itna To Zindagi Mein Kisi Ki Khalal Pade and somehow managed to get himself invited to a mushaira and over there, he recited a ghazal, rather a couplet of the ghazal which was very much appreciated by the president of the mushaira, Mani Jaisi, but most of the people, including his father, thought he recited his elder brother's ghazal.[9] When his elder brother denied it, his father and his clerk decided to test his poetic talent. They gave him one of the lines of a couplet and asked him to write a ghazal in the same meter and rhyme. Azmi accepted the challenge and completed a ghazal. This particular ghazal was to become a rage in undivided India and it was immortalised as it was sung by legendary ghazal singer, Begum Akhtar. Azmi abandoned his studies of Persian and Urdu during the Quit India agitations in 1942 and shortly thereafter became a full-time Marxist when he accepted membership of the Communist Party of India in 1943. During this period, the leading progressive writers of Lucknow noticed him. They were very impressed by his leadership qualities. They also saw in him a budding poet and extended all possible encouragement towards him. Consequently, Azmi started to win great acclaim as a poet and became a member of Progressive Writers' Movement of India. At the age of twenty-four, he started activities in the textile mill areas of Kanpur. As a full-time worker, he left his life of comfort, though he was the son of a zamindar. He was asked to shift his base to Bombay, work amongst the workers and start party work with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm.[6]


Kar chale hum fida jan-o-tan sathion
ab tumhare hawale watan sathio
zinda rahne ki mausam bahut hai magar
jan dene ki rut roz ati nahi
husn aur ishq dono ko ruswa kare
wo jawani jo khu me nahati nahi
aaj dharti bani hai dulhan sathio
Kar Chale hum Fida Jaan-o-Tan Sathio

Kaifi Azmi

I sacrifice now, this life and body, o friends...
the nation is in your hands now, o friends...
so many seasons are there to live, but...
the season to give up one's life doesn't come often, ...
leaving behind both, the beauty & the love,
of what value is that youth, which doesn't bathe in blood...
today the earth has become my bride, o friends
I sacrifice now, this body and life, o friends...

Syed Mahmood Khundmiri introducing Kaifi Azami in Annual Mushaira in Chicago.

Like most of the Urdu poets, Azmi began as a ghazal writer, cramming his poetry with the repeated themes of love and romance in a style that was replete with clichés and metaphors. However, his association with the Progressive Writers' Movement and Communist Party made him embark on the path of socially conscious poetry. In his poetry, he highlights the exploitation of the subaltern masses and through them he conveys a message of the creation of a just social order by dismantling the existing one. Yet, his poetry cannot be called plain propaganda. It has its own merits; intensity of emotions, in particular, and the spirit of sympathy and compassion towards the disadvantaged section of society, are the hallmark of his poetry. His poems are also notable for their rich imagery and in this respect, his contribution to Urdu poetry can hardly be overstated.[6] Azmi's first collection of poems, Jhankar was published in 1943.

In 1944, he wrote a poem Ab Agli Id Ek Azad Pakistan Main Hogi — one of the works written by leading Progressive Writers of Urdu campaigning for Pakistan[10] — although he later became bitter about the partition.[11]

His important works including anthologies of poetry, were Aakhir-e-Shab,[2] Sarmaya, Awaara Sajde, Kaifiyaat, Nai Gulistan, an anthology of articles he wrote for Urdu Blitz, Meri Awaaz Suno,[2] a selection of his film lyrics, and the script of Heer Ranjha in Devanagari.[12]

His best known poems are Aurat, Makaan, Daaera, Sanp, and Bahuroopni.


Azmi's work in films includes working as a lyricist, writer, and actor. Azmi wrote his first lyrics for the film Buzdil, directed by Shaheed Latif and music by SD Burman, released in 1951. His early work as a writer was mainly for Nanubhai Vakil's films like Yahudi Ki Beti (1956), Parvin (1957), Miss Punjab Mail (1958) and Id Ka Chand (1964). While directors like Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Bimal Roy strove to create the "New Cinema", writers like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Kaifi changed the tenor and vocabulary of the Hindi film song, creating a fresh new wave in Hindi film lyrics that lasted many years.[13] His greatest feat as a writer was Chetan Anand's Heer Raanjha (1970) wherein the entire dialogue of the film was in verse. It was a tremendous achievement and one of the greatest feats of Hindi film writing. Azmi also won great critical accolades for the script, dialogues and lyrics of M.S. Sathyu's Garam Hawa (1973), based on a story by Ismat Chughtai. Azmi also wrote the dialogues for Shyam Benegal's Manthan (1976) and Sathyu's Kanneshwara Rama (1977). As a lyricist and songwriter, though he wrote for numerous films, he will always be remembered for Guru Dutt's Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Chetan Anand's Haqeeqat (1964), India's greatest war film. Some notables films for which he wrote lyrics include Kohra (1964), Anupama (1966), Uski Kahani (1966), Saat Hindustani (1969), Shola Aur Shabnam, Parwana (1971), Bawarchi (1972), Pakeezah (1972), Hanste Zakhm (1973), Arth (1982) and Razia Sultan (1983). For Naunihal (1967), he wrote the song "Meri Aawaz Suno Pyar ka Raaz Suno" (Hear my voice, hear the secret of love) sung by Mohammad Rafi. The song is picturised over the funeral procession of Prime Minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru. Years later, after Azmi's own death his daughter, Shabana Azmi mentioned finding comfort in verses from the song.[14] Azmi wrote the lyrics for Bible Ki Kahaniyan, the first Christian mythological television show broadcast in India.[15] He also played a memorable role of Naseem's grandfather in Naseem (1995). Azmi died on 10 May 2002 at around the age of eighty-three. He was survived by his wife, daughter, and son. His autobiography is included in a collection of his works, Aaj Ke Prashid Shayar: Kaifi Azmi.[6]

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Year Title Role Notes
1995 Naseem Naseem's Grandfather Actor
Year Title Role Notes
1951 Buzdil Lyricist
1953 Bahu Beti Lyricist
1955 Hatimtai Ki Beti Lyricist
1956 Yahudi Ki Beti Writer
1957 Pravin Writer
1958 Sone Ki Chidiya Lyricist
1958 Lala Rukh Lyricist Uncredited
1958 Miss Punjab Mail Writer
1959 Paper Flowers Lyricist
1960 Apna Haath Jagannath Lyricist
1961 Shama Lyricist
1961 Shola Aur Shabnam Lyricist
1961 Razia Sultana Lyricist
1962 Nakli Nawab Lyricist
1962 Gyara Hazar Ladkian Writer
1964 The Fog Lyricist
1964 Id Ka Chand Writer
1964 Main Suhagan Hoon Lyricist
1964 Haqeeqat Lyricist
1965 Chor Darwaza Lyricist
1965 Alor Pipasa Lyricist Bengali
1966 Anupama Lyricist
1966 Do Dil Lyricist
1966 Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi Lyricist
1966 Aakhri Khat Lyricist
1967 Naunihal Lyricist
1968 Anokhi Raat Lyricist
1969 Saat Hindustani Lyricist Won 'National Film Award' for Best Lyrics - Song: "Aandhi Aaye Ki Toofan"
1969 Satyakam Lyricist
1970 Hamara Adhikar Lyricist
1970 Dagabaaz Lyricist
1970 Heer Raanjha Lyricist
1970 Maharaja Lyricist
1970 Maa Ka Aanchal Lyricist
1971 Parwana Lyricist
1971 Do Boond Pani Lyricist
1972 Rivaaj Lyricist
1972 Pakeezah Lyricist
1972 Bawarchi Lyricist
1973 Naina Lyricist
1973 Alam Ara Lyricist
1973 Hanste Zakhm Lyricist
1973 Hindustan Ki Kasam Lyricist
1974 Faslah Lyricist
1974 Garm Hava Lyricist, Writer Won 'National Film' for Best Story (with Ismat Chughtai). 'Filmfare Award' for Best Dialogue, Best Story (with Ismat Chughtai) and Best Screenplay. This movie was India's official submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1974.
1977 Dil Aur Patthar Lyricist
1977 Shankar Hussain Lyricist
1977 Dhoop Chhaon Lyricist
1979 Shaitan Mujrim Lyricist
1979 Inspector Eagle Lyricist
1982 Yeh Nazdeekiyan Lyricist
1982 Arth Lyricist
1982 Deedar-E-Yaar Lyricist
1982 Lakshmi Lyricist
1982 Suraag Lyricist
1983 Razia Sultan Lyricist
1984 Hum Rahe Na Hum Lyricist
1984 Bhavna Lyricist
1986 Mere Saath Chal Lyricist
1986 Nasihat Lyricist
1986 Shart Lyricist
1989 Main Azaad Hoon Lyricist
1993 Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee Lyricist
1998 Tamanna Lyricist
2003 Ek Alag Mausam Lyricist

In media

Azmi was the subject of a documentary film called Diksha (2015), directed by Raman Kumar. In 1997, he recited his own poems for Kaifiyaat, an audio book on his collected works.

Kaifi Aur Mein, a play based on his life, his works and the memoir of his wife, Shaukat AzmiYadon Ki Rahguzar (Down Memory Lane), was written and performed by Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi, and performed in India as well as abroad in 2006.[16] Another play, directed by Rani Balbir, Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Hasin Sitam, based on Kaifi Azmi's life and writings was staged in 2005, and received rave reviews.[17]


He was the recipient of Padma Shri, India's fourth-highest civilian award in 1974.[18] Besides he was awarded the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Award and the Sahitya Akademi Award for Urdu for his collection Awaara Sajde, Special Award of Maharashtra Urdu Academy, Soviet Land Nehru Award, Lotus Award from the Afro-Asian Writers' Association, and President's Award for national integration. In 1998, Government of Maharashtra conferred the Jyaneshwara Award on him. He was also honoured with the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Fellowship for lifetime achievement.[19][2][5]

Kaifi Azmi returned his Padma Shri in the 1980s after the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Vir Bahadur Singh remarked that those speaking Urdu as a second language should be made to sit on a donkey and paraded. According to his daughter Shabana Azmi, her father replied that he had written in Urdu all his life, and if his State's Chief Minister held such views on the language, he, as a writer, must stand up for himself.[20]

In 2000, he was conferred the first Millennium Award by the Government of Delhi and the Delhi Urdu Academy. He has also been honoured with a doctorate from Vishva Bharati University, Santiniketan.[5]


The Speaker, Lok Sabha, Shri Somnath Chatterjee at a function of renaming of the road as “Kaifi Azmi Sadak” in New Delhi on 22 February 2005

The government has also inaugurated a train named "Kaifiyat Express" which runs from his hometown Azamgarh to Old Delhi.

On 14 January 2020, search engine Google commemorated Kaifi Azmi with a Doodle on his 101st birth anniversary.[21] Google commented: "With work ranging from passionate love poems and activist verses to Bollywood songs lyrics and screenplays, Azmi has become one of the most renowned poets of the 20th century in India, and his humanitarian efforts continue to impact people's lives today."[22] There is street also named after him Kaifi Azmi road in Hyderabad. There is also a road in R. K. Puram, New Delhi named Kaifi Azmi Marg after him.[23]

Sahitya Akademi Award

National Film Awards

Filmfare Awards

Select bibliography


  1. ^ "Kaifi Azmi - A Rebellious Poet". Kaifi Azmi. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "कर चले हम फ़िदा" (PDF). स्पर्श भाग 2 (in Hindi). New Delhi, India: NCERT. p. 41. ISBN 81-7450-647-0. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2019. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  3. ^ "Shabana Azmi launches website to honour father Kaifi Azmi". DNA India. 16 July 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  4. ^ PTI (17 July 2014). "Shabana Azmi launches website to honour father Kaifi Azmi". India Today. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Tarique Omum (1 June 2002). "Kaifi Azmi - the last comrade-poet". The Milli Gazette. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e Karan Bali (2014). "Kaifi Azmi - profile". Upperstall.com website. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  7. ^ Azmi, Kaifi; Panjiar, Prashant (6 February 2022). "Kaifi Azmi". Outlook. Retrieved 9 July 2023.
  8. ^ "Death of an icon: Kaifi Azmi (?-2002)". Himal Southasian. 1 August 2002. Retrieved 9 July 2023.
  9. ^ "Remembering Kaifi Azmi, the people's poet". The Indian Express. 3 March 2019. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  10. ^ Ansari, Shaukatullah (1944). Pakistan The Problem Of India. Lahore. pp. xxii.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  11. ^ Kidwai, Rasheed (5 September 2018). Neta–Abhineta: Bollywood Star Power in Indian Politics. Hachette India. ISBN 978-93-5009-803-5.
  12. ^ "Kaifi Azmi". Rediff. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Kaifi". kaifiaurmain.com. Archived from the original on 3 November 2007.
  14. ^ Avanti Maluste; Sudeep Doshi (9 January 2008). A Poem for Cry: Favourite Poems of Famous Indians. Penguin Books India. pp. 26–. ISBN 978-0-670-04998-1. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  15. ^ "Bible Ki Kahaniya". nettv4u.
  16. ^ Singh, Bhupinder (3 December 2006). "Kaifi Aur Main". a reader's words. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  17. ^ "Spectrum". The Sunday Tribune. 20 March 2005. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  18. ^ "Kaifi Azmi's Padma Shri award in Art in 1974" (PDF). Padma Awards Directory (1954 - 2013), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India website. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  19. ^ "List of Fellows And Honorary Fellows Fellows". SNA Official website. Archived from the original on 5 June 2009. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  20. ^ "Role of arts not just to entertain: Shabana Azmi". The Hindu. 20 October 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  21. ^ "Google Doodle Celebrates Legendary Poet Kaifi Azmi's 101st Birth Anniversary". NDTV. 14 January 2020. Retrieved 14 January 2020.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ "Kaifi Azmi's 101st Birthday". 1 August 2018. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  23. ^ "Kaifi Aur Main - saga of a poet". Indian Peoples' Theatre Association (IPTA) website. 3 January 2007. Archived from the original on 3 November 2007. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  24. ^ "Government of India - Sahitya Akademi Fellows List". 6 May 2008. Archived from the original on 5 June 2009. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
National Film Award for Best Story
Filmfare Award for Best Story