Art should be used as an instrument for social change, says Shabana Azmi

Kaifi Azmi’s daughter and celebrated actor Shabana Azmi talks to Rana Siddiqui Zaman on the occasion of the release of a collection of the translation of the celebrated Urdu Poet Kaifi Azmi’s poetry


Rana Siddiqui Zaman

This week in New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre saw two significant events that shaped a poetic evening, charged with enthusiasm as it was a celebration of the birth centenary of Kaifi Azmi, a poet of romance and revolution. On this occasion, a book titled Kaifi Azmi, Poems/Nazms and selected translations published by Bloomsbury was released and a film Kaifinama by Sumantra Ghoshal, known for his masterpiece on tabla maestro Zakir Hussain was also screened.

A quick conversation with Kaifi Azmi’s daughter and celebrated actor Shabana Azmi on the same:

How did you choose some works by Kaifi Azmi sahab when there is an immense collection of his creations?

The selection was made by the translators. Mir Ali Hussain (Hyderabad-based poet and translator) has written Poems of Resistance on the PWA (Progressive Writers’ Association) and is a longstanding admirer of Kaifi. Baidar Bakht (reputed translator) has translated Ali Sardar Jafri’s work. (Filmmaker) Pritish Nandy was the first person who translated a slim volume of some selected poems which are reproduced here. Sudeep Sen and Sumantra Ghoshal are both poets in their own right, so I am very satisfied.

What prompted the idea of making a film on Kaifi sahab as most people do know a lot about him through countless videos, and several shows you and Javed Sahab have done on him including Kaifi aur Main on your parents’ bonding?

When I asked Sumantra (Ghoshal) to make the film, he was puzzled and said ‘why me? I didn’t really know Kaifi.’

But that was precisely why I asked him. I wanted him to discover Kaifi in the process of making the film so that he could have a fresh approach . Kaifi was an imposing personality and most people were overwhelmed by his charm and his intellect. I wanted the filmmaker to have no preconceived notions. Sumantra had these beautiful interviews with mummy and Abba done 20 years ago. I had also seen his documentary on Zakir Hussain that I loved. Sumantra is an aesthete and I am very pleased with the wonderful response to the film. It has been selected for Washington DC, Chicago, Seattle and Montreal Film Festivals . We have shown it at BAFTA and the Bradford Literature Festival already.

Sumantra did not show me the script or a single frame till the film was ready. I trusted him and he has validated that trust. The film was ready in less than a year

How was your emotional journey during all this?

In my view, in celebrating Kaifi we celebrate the values of social justice, women’s empowerment and pluralism that was the mark of the Progressive Writers Movement..Now more than ever we need to reclaim the view that Art should be used as an instrument for social change. To quote Kaifi sahab:

Pyarka jashn nayi tarha manana hoga

Gham kisi dil mein sahi gham ko mitana hoga..

(we will have to celebrate love in a way anew,

Pain and sorrows have to be mitigated no matter who is going through them)

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Published: 13 Jun 2019, 8:30 PM