Exclusive: Javed Akhtar & Shabana Azmi talk ‘Kaifi Aur Main’


Kaifi Azmi was a renowned poet, lyricist and writer. He was husband to Shaukat Kaifi, who had written a biography called ‘Kaifi Aur I’, has now been adapted into a play called ‘Kaifi Aur Main’ by their daughter Shabana Azmi and son-in-law Javed Akthar.

Following worldwide success and over 150 shows complete, BizAsia‘s Ketna Mistry caught up with the couple ahead of their tour in the UK.

Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar

How did you come up with the idea for ‘Kaifi Aur Main’?

Shabana Azmi: It was an anniversary of my father and we had to do some kind of tribute to him. It was decided that there was a book of my mother�۪s called ‘Kaif Aur Main’, which was originally called ‘Yaadon Ki Rahguzar,�۪ we would take some passages from that, the passages from Kaifi Saab’s various interviews, and Javed said he would collate it together and disperse it with music and poetry.��It was meant to be a one off tribute to Kaifi Saab on his death anniversary, the response was so overwhelming but we have taken it to every corner of the world, every country, that it�۪s become a much dearly loved production.

Javed Akhtar: When the IPTA (Indian People Theatre Association), which is a very large theatre group which Kaifi Saab used to be the president of, said they wanted to do something different, not clear what, so I said why not look at��Shaukat Kaifi’s book ‘Kaifi Aur Main’ which had been published. It has very interesting elements of their married life which falls over five decades if not more, so I tried to make a narrative along with his songs and poetry, so it would make it interesting and tell their complete story.

It was easier said than done, because we definitely had a book, I had collected things and putting them in order that it would become a core narrative of five decades old, rather a tall order. At the time we thought we wouldn�۪t be able to do it we�۪ve bitten of more than we could chew, somehow within three days I made some kind of narrative and completed it by the fourth day and on the sixth day Shabana and I read it and the first time we were reading it was in front of the audience and it worked that we got a standing ovation and people were like wow!, how you have encapsulated the whole life and efforts and their mission and the culture and those values.

How would you describe ‘Kaifi Aur Main’ in your own words?

Shabana Azmi: It has something for everybody because it is a saga, it has romance, it has drama, it has music, it has poetry, it has live singing, it has adversity. Ultimately it�۪s a story of two extraordinary people in extraordinary times, because ‘Kaifi Aur Main’ encapsulates both the musical and cultural ethos of those times, so it�۪s got everything for everybody, but above all it�۪s a story of a man who in spite of being paralysed from his left leg and his left arm, incapacitated for life, actually dedicated himself to the people and contributed to what the audience believed in, it was used as part of social change.

What are you hoping the audiences will take away from this experience?

Shabana Azmi: It�۪s an unique experience because they wouldn�۪t have seen anything like that, the audience will be going away being more inspired, which generally happens and moved by it.

The important thing to remember about it is every single word that is spoken either in Shaukat Kaifi’s voice or Kaifi Saab, all the words are taken from life, nothing is fictional or nothing is invented. It�۪s possibly the only instance you have of a story narrated by son-in-law and daughter; son-in-law playing the father-in-law and daughter playing the mother-in-law.

What do you like the most about ‘Kaifi Aur Main’?

Javed Akhtar: It�۪s not for me to decide about it because I�۪m the writer, but the feedback I get is a life of 50 years has been narrated and people get to see the lighter side of their personalities, because there is a lot of humour and exchange of fond moments. Somehow it gives you a picture of a certain culture, certain traditions and popular music that has been written in films for Kaifi Saab, there are poems which are highly respected in literature, in matter of fact there are a lot of emotional moments, I mean when the play ends there�۪s hardly a dry eye. People while they have loved many times, they have enjoyed the music, at the same time it touches you heart also. Somehow things have really changed and the play has somehow captured the essence of their lives.

In your opinion, do you feel doing a show like this will inspire people of all generations to discover or reacquaint themselves with poetry?

Shabana Azmi: It will most certainly kindle interest in poetry because the story is very romantic. It was my father reciting at a Mushaira, which is a poetry event where poets come to recite the poetry which is different from reading out poetry which happens in the west. This is s actually standing in front of a 10,000 strong and reciting the poetry. In those days, we�۪re going back in 1947, young poets used to be treated like film stars, girls used to hover around them wanting their autographs and all of that, so it�۪s very romantic. But the forefront is reciting at the Mushaira in Hyderabad and my mother saw him and fell in love reciting a very revolutionary poem called ��Aurat�۪ which means woman.

Javed Akhtar: Sure, this is an easy lesson, there is no abstractions or ambiguity or intellectual heroism in the narrative, there are many light-hearted moments at the same time serious things are also being said which are accessible for young people. Somehow it�۪s not heavy, it�۪s not dry, it�۪s not boring, it�۪s not slow and these are the things that are not appreciated by the younger generation.

With the success you�۪ve had, do you think you will come back doing a similar type of show in the future?

Shabana Azmi: It�۪s too early to say, a lot of people keep saying we should do something similar with Javed and my life, but maybe at a later date. At the moment this is what we�۪re doing and we’re enjoying it.

Javed Akhtar: We�۪ll see. I did not know that this will be performed so many times. I�۪m not a stage play writer I am a screenplay writer, and I have the understanding of cinematic but I cannot make an inset claim about the stage. That is why I have always resisted writing plays and I thought this show would be one occasion, one evening, so I dared to do it, but somehow it caught people�۪s attention and they appreciated it so much that we had to do it again and again for the last seven years.

After doing this play, yes it has brought some confidence, if some idea inspires me like this one has, then why not I�۪ll write again.


‘Kaifi Aur Main’ will be shown at The Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Saturday 3rd September and Indigo,��The O2 in London on Sunday 4th September.��

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