Accolades, Standing Ovation for the Play’s Talented Team
By Geeta Goindi
Chantilly, Virginia, April 1, 2016 – The eagerly-awaited play,‘Kaifi Aur Main’, a romantic saga elucidating the enchanting real-life love story of Indian Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi and his wife Shaukat, drew a packed crowd to the magnificent Bellevue Conference & Events Center on a warm evening for early Spring.
On stage were its celebrity protagonists: actress and social activist Shabana Azmi; illustrious writer Javed Akhtar who describes himself as “a poet, lyricist, scriptwriter, atheist and a die-hard optimist”; and Jaswinder Singh, hailed as India’s young ghazal maestro. The performances were superlative to say the least, befitting the caliber of the subject matter!
The Washington area event was another feather in the cap of organizer Manish Sood and his wife Deepa of Intense Entertainment. The main hall of the opulent center was packed with a discerning audience, some 1,000-strong. As in other US cities, tickets were sold out days in advance of the event.
“Hope to continue receiving the fabulous response so far on our tour”, Shabana Azmi tweeted.
‘Kaifi Aur Main’ is a labor of love! In essence, it is a wife’s ode to her beloved husband. The medium of theater has been employed to present Shaukat’s interaction with Kaifi from her book ‘Yaad Ki Rehguzaar’ together with portions from various interviews of Kaifi which have been tied together by Javed Akhtar and directed by Ramesh Talwar. Much to the delight of the viewers, the memoirs are interspersed with beautiful and soothing music by Kuldip Singh.
The two-hour play offers rare and interesting insights into the personal and professional life of the late Kaifi Azmi (January 14, 1919 – May 10, 2002) who would have been 96 this year. His daughter Shabana Azmi and her husband Javed Akhtar read the parts of Shaukat and Kaifi in a brilliant manner effectively conveying myriad emotions of love, longing, humor, pathos and grief.
The play transports you to an era when everything seems so simple, so pure, pristine! As young lovers, when Kaifi and Shaukat are apart, their mode of communication is letter-writing – an art that is almost extinct in this technological age of cursory, instant messages.
Theirs is an epic love story spanning 55 years, beginning in pre-independent India, a time of struggle and strife. Shaukat is 19 when she meets Kaifi for the first time. A romance blossoms under the stern eyes of her family. The ghazals and geet rendered by Jaswinder Singh match the mood and moment: ‘Jhuki jhuki si nazar’ (Arth), ‘Tum jo mil gaye ho’ (Hanste Zakhm).
As husband and wife, Kaifi and Shaukat struggle to make ends meet. He gets a break in the film industry and pens timeless classics: ‘Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam’ (Kaagaz Ke Phool) and ‘Kar chale hum fida Jan-o-tan saathiyon’ (Haqeeqat). He battles illness and depression, is determined to emerge stronger. The audience is treated to ‘Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho, Kya gham hai jisko chhupa rahe ho’ (Arth).
We learn about ‘Heer Ranjha’ which is considered Kaifi’s greatest feat as a writer insofar as the entire dialogue of the film was written in poetic verse – an accomplishment which astounds!
Professional challenges and how relations change with success are reflected in the song, ‘Dekhi zamane ki yaari, Bichhade sabhi baari baari’ (Kaagaz Ke Phool). The play progresses in this engrossing manner with anecdotes, poetry, and music!
One can’t help observing that the grandeur of the Bellevue Center stands in marked contrast to the subject matter and setting of the play. On stage, there were very few props – Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar sat on a chair with table; Jaswinder Singh and members of a live orchestra were seated on one end. Overhead hung a portrait of a brooding and contemplative Kaifi whose childhood and youth were spent in the small, obscure village of Mijwan, Uttar Pradesh, from where he moved to Bombay and struggled to make a mark!
What makes the play so alluring is the fact that it is a creative feat buttressed by stellar performances. Shabana Azmi, as Shaukat, is brilliant! It feels like she is giving it her all, effortlessly. You can see the glow on her face, the sparkle in her eyes, as she recounts the sweet romance of her mother. Towards the end, she is overcome with emotion at the loss of Kaifi, mirroring Shaukat’s grief. If only she had more stage time!
“This is perhaps the most challenging role I have ever played”, Shabana has admitted. “Every word in the play is true”, she said, emphasizing, “This is not just a play. It is a theatrical experience”!
Kaifi not only possessed a romantic spirit, he was a progressive thinker and had a revolutionary streak – the rebel with a cause! In his poems, one is cognizant of the intensity of emotions, a commitment to empowering women and girls, and compassion towards the underprivileged.
In the play, we learn of his untiring efforts to develop the hamlet of Mijwan, his birthplace, where residents now have access to water, electricity, roads, television, telephone, and there is a school and inter-college for girls, a computer training center, and a sewing and tailoring facility. Shabana Azmi, who shares her father’s passion for developing their ancestral village, “believes art should be used as an instrument for social change”.
In a powerful, eloquent and moving address to the audience in the finale, Javed Akhtar contemplates on the extraordinary virtues of poet, writer, lyricist, husband, father, crusader, Kaifi Azmi. “Ajeeb aadmi tha woh”, he underscores, conveying he was one-of-a-kind, a rare breed. Little wonder then that ‘Kaifi Aur Main’ is such a compelling play, a must watch!