Kaifi Azmi

Kaifi Azmi

کیفی اعظمی
14 January 1919


14 January 1919




Kaifi Azmi (1919–2002) was a preeminent Indian Urdu poet, lyricist, and social activist whose work left an indelible mark on the realms of poetry and cinema in India. Born in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, he became a celebrated figure renowned for his poignant, socially conscious poetry and impactful lyrics.

Kaifi Azmi was a flagbearer of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in India, which aimed to use literature as a vehicle for social change and to address issues of social justice, equality, and communal harmony. His verses reflected the socio-political milieu of his time, advocating for equality, communal harmony, and the rights of the oppressed.

He gained widespread recognition for his lyrical compositions in Hindi cinema, enriching numerous Bollywood films with his powerful and emotionally resonant songs. His collaboration with legendary music directors like S.D. Burman, Ravi, and Khayyam produced some of the most iconic and enduring songs in the history of Indian cinema.

Beyond his literary and cinematic contributions, Kaifi Azmi was an ardent activist and a prominent voice in various social causes. He co-founded the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and worked tirelessly for the welfare of the marginalized and underprivileged sections of society.

His poetry often captured the nuances of human emotions, struggles, and societal disparities, resonating deeply with audiences for its depth and emotional impact. His legacy as a poet, lyricist, and social reformer continues to be revered in India and beyond, inspiring generations with his words and ideals long after his passing.

Early life

Kaifi Azmi, a prominent Indian Urdu poet, lyricist, and social activist, was born as Syed Athar Hussein Rizvi on January 14, 1919, in a village called Mizwaa(n) in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. He belonged to a family of landlords, and his father, Syed Fateh Hussain Rizvi, was a landlord and a highly educated man who encouraged his children to pursue education. Azmi’s early education was in his hometown.

Kaifi Azmi showed a penchant for poetry from a young age. He was deeply moved by the socio-economic disparities and the struggles of the common people, which later became a significant theme in his poetic works.

Azmi’s family faced financial difficulties, particularly after the death of his father when Kaifi was quite young. This compelled him to move to Lucknow in search of better opportunities. In Lucknow, he continued his education and became involved in the Progressive Writers’ Movement, a literary movement that aimed to use literature as a tool for social and political change.

His experiences growing up in rural India and witnessing the hardships of the underprivileged greatly influenced his poetry, infusing it with themes of social justice, equality, and the struggles of the working class.

Kaifi Azmi’s early life experiences and the societal conditions he witnessed served as a significant foundation for his later activism and his commitment to bringing about social change through his writings and actions.

Story behind the name

The name “Kaifi Azmi” holds a story deeply rooted in the life of the famous Indian Urdu poet and lyricist. Born as Sayyid Athar Hussein Rizvi, he later became renowned by his pen name, “Kaifi Azmi.”

Kaifi Azmi’s journey from Sayyid Athar Hussein Rizvi to Kaifi Azmi is an interesting tale. The transformation of his name signifies a shift in his identity and his connection to his roots.

The name “Kaifi” was inspired by his Sufi leanings and his inclination towards spirituality. It’s said that he derived the name from the Arabic word “Kaif,” which means “satisfaction” or “contentment.” This reflected his poetic persona and his longing for a more profound spiritual connection.

The choice of the surname “Azmi” was a tribute to the city of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, India, where his ancestors hailed from. Embracing the name Azmi was a gesture of honoring his roots and lineage.

The combination of “Kaifi Azmi” represented not only a poet but also an individual who sought contentment and drew from the cultural heritage and pride of his ancestry.

This name change wasn’t just about adopting a new identity; it was a symbol of his poetic and spiritual journey and a homage to his origins. Throughout his life, Kaifi Azmi’s poetry and writings reflected the essence of his name, resonating with a quest for spiritual fulfillment and a deep connection to his cultural heritage.


Kaifi Azmi, a renowned Indian Urdu poet, lyricist, and activist, was celebrated for his impactful literary works. Some of his notable works include:

1. Poetry Collections:

“Jhankar” (1943)
-“Aurat” (1948)
“Sarmaya” (1948)
-“Awara Sajde” (1963)
“Kaifiyaat” (1976)
“Nai Gulistan” (1990)
– “Rahi Masoom Raza” (1991)

2. Film Songs:

Kaifi Azmi was a prolific lyricist for the Indian film industry. He penned lyrics for numerous memorable songs in Hindi cinema. Some of the famous songs written by him include:
“Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam” from the film “Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959)
“Kar Chale Hum Fida” from the film “Haqeeqat” (1964)
“Ae Dil-e-Nadan” from the film “Razia Sultan” (1983)
“Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho” from the film “Arth” (1982)

3. Plays and Social Activism:

Kaifi Azmi was not only a poet and lyricist but also an ardent social activist. He wrote several plays and used his pen to advocate for social change and justice, addressing various societal issues.

His work often reflected themes of love, social justice, women’s rights, and the struggles of the common man. Azmi’s contributions to Urdu literature and Indian cinema have had a lasting impact, making him a revered figure in Indian culture.


Kaifi Azmi was a prominent Indian Urdu poet, lyricist, and songwriter who left a significant legacy in the world of literature, poetry, and film. His impact is multifaceted and can be observed in several domains:


Kaifi Azmi’s poetry holds a special place in Urdu literature. His poetic works often centered on social issues, human conditions, and the struggle of the marginalized. He was a torchbearer of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu literature, which aimed to use literature as a means of social reform.

 Film and Music:

He was a highly influential figure in the Indian film industry, notably in Bollywood. His lyrical contributions to Indian cinema, characterized by their depth, emotion, and social consciousness, are exemplary. Kaifi Azmi’s poignant and evocative lyrics contributed to some of the most iconic songs in Indian cinema.


Azmi was not only an artist but also a committed social activist. He actively advocated for various social causes, including women’s rights, communal harmony, and the rights of the underprivileged. His efforts in social reform and activism extended beyond his poetry and songs.


Kaifi Azmi’s legacy lies in his ability to merge the realms of art, social awareness, and activism. His impact on literature and art remains indelible, inspiring generations of poets, lyricists, and artists. His work continues to be celebrated, quoted, and revered for its emotional depth and social significance.

Family Legacy:

Azmi’s legacy continues through his daughter, the celebrated actress Shabana Azmi, and his son-in-law, noted poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar. Both have carried forward his artistic and social legacy, with Javed Akhtar also being a renowned lyricist and Shabana Azmi continuing to be an influential figure in Indian cinema and social activism.

Kaifi Azmi’s influence is not just within the artistic sphere but also in the hearts of those who appreciate and are moved by his poetry and writings. His ability to blend the artistic with the social and political aspects of life has left an enduring impact on Indian culture and society.

Notable work

Kaifi Azmi, a prominent Indian Urdu poet, is recognized for his significant contributions to Urdu literature and the Indian film industry. Some of his notable works include:

1. Poetry Collections:
“Jhankar” (1943)
“Sarmaya” (1948)
“Awara Sajde” (1956)
2. Film Lyrics:

“Kaagaz Ke Phool” (1959) – Kaifi Azmi penned the lyrics for this film, directed by Guru Dutt.
“Haqeeqat”(1964) – He contributed to the powerful lyrics of songs in this film, capturing the essence of the India-China war.
“Heer Ranjha” (1970) – Azmi’s poetic talent was evident in the songs of this film, which retold the classic love story of Heer and Ranjha.

3. Social Activism:

Kaifi Azmi was not only a literary figure but also an active social worker and a prominent member of the Progressive Writers’ Association. His poetry often reflected social issues, advocating for equality, justice, and communal harmony.

4. Legacy:

Kaifi Azmi’s legacy extends beyond his written works. He was also the father of Shabana Azmi, a renowned actress in the Indian film industry. His impact on Urdu poetry and his efforts in social reform remain influential and remembered to this day.

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Awards and recognition

Kaifi Azmi, a highly respected Indian Urdu poet, lyricist, and activist, received several awards and recognition for his contributions to literature and social causes. Some of the notable accolades and honors bestowed upon him include:

1. Padma Shri:

In 1973, Kaifi Azmi was honored with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, for his significant contributions to literature and the arts.

2. Sahitya Akademi Award:

He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1974 for his collection of Urdu poetry, “Awara Sajde.”

3. Madhya Pradesh Urdu Academy Award:

Azmi was honored by the Madhya Pradesh Urdu Academy for his literary works.

4. Kalidas Samman:

He received the prestigious Kalidas Samman by the Government of Madhya Pradesh for his outstanding work in the field of Urdu literature.

Kaifi Azmi’s work and legacy continue to be celebrated and acknowledged in India and internationally for his poetic brilliance, social activism, and contributions to Urdu literature and Indian cinema.



Kaifi Azmi, the renowned Indian Urdu poet and lyricist, passed away on May 10, 2002. His death was a significant loss to the world of literature and Indian cinema. Azmi was celebrated for his impactful poetry, progressive ideals, and remarkable contributions to the film industry through his thought-provoking lyrics. He remains an influential figure in the realm of Urdu literature and cultural activism, remembered for his powerful words that continue to resonate with many to this day.


Kaifi Azmi, a renowned Indian Urdu poet, was known for his profound poetry that delved into themes of love, social justice, and humanism. He wrote primarily in Urdu, a language rich in poetic tradition and widely spoken in South Asia. Azmi’s poetry often contained complex metaphors, vivid imagery, and a lyrical quality that resonated deeply with the masses. His command over the Urdu language and his ability to express emotions in a compelling and relatable manner made him one of the most celebrated poets in the realm of Urdu literature. Azmi’s verses continue to inspire and captivate audiences, transcending linguistic and cultural boundaries.

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