Kaifi Azmi, the Indian Urdu poet and Bollywood lyricist was born in Mizwan, Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh on January 19, 1919 and lived till May 10, 2002. He has been awarded the Padmashri by the Government of India. In 1970 he won the National Award for the lyrics of Saat Hindustani.
Azmi wrote his first ghazal, “Itna To Zindagi Mein Kisi Ki Khalal Pade”, at the young age of eleven and managed to get himself invited to a mushaira where he was much appreciated by the president of the mushaira, Mani Jaisi, though his father and most of the audience thought he was reciting his elder brother’s ghazal.When his father got to know the truth, he challenged Azmi to come up with another ghazal in a particular rhyme and meter. The ghazal he wrote became very popular and was eternalised in the voice of the famous ghazal singer Begum Akhtar.
During the Quit India agitations of 1942 Azmi gave up his Persian and Urdu studies and in the next year became a member of the Communist Party of India. Following the encouragement from leading progressive writers, he joined the Progressive Writers’ Movement of India. It was this association that veered him off the themes of love and romance and set him on the path of socially conscious poetry. With his rich imagery and intense spirit his contribution to Urdu poetry has been immense. Aurat, Makaan, Daaera, Saanp, and Bahuroopni are some of his best known poems.
In 1947 he fell in love and married Shaukat Kaifi who later became a popular theatre and film actress. They have two children: Shabana Azmi the film, theatre and television actress and Baba Azmi the Indian cinematographer.
As a lyricist his first lines were for the film Buzdil (1952). As a writer he began with Nanubhai Vakil’s films like Yahudi Ki Beti (1956), Parvin (1957) and Miss Punjab Mail (1958). He, along with Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar and Majrooh Sutlanpuri are credited with giving Hindi lyrics a new lease on life with changed metaphors and words. Azmi will always be known for Chetan Anand’s Heer Raanjha (1970) where the entire film’s dialogue was written by him in verse.
Azmi won three Filmfare Awards for Best Dialogue, Screenplay and Story for Garam Hawa in 1975. Having won the Government of Maharashtra’s Dnyaneshwar Award in 1998, other awards he has been honoured with include the Uttar Pradesh State Urdu Academy Award, 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 2000, the first Millennium Award by the Government of Delhi and the Delhi Urdu Academy came his way. He was also awarded a doctorate by Vishva Bharati University, Santiniketan. Sahitya Akademi, honoured his talent with a lifetime achievement award in 2002.
He died at the age of 83 on May 10, 2002 and is survived by his wife, daughter and son.