Sayyid Akhtar Hussein Rizvi, known as Kaifi Azmi (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. Together with Pirzada Qasim, Jon Elia and others he participated in the most memorable mushairas of the twentieth century.
At age eleven, Azmi wrote his first ghazal 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. 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.
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.
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 (1958). 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.
He was the recipient of Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award. 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.