A tale of love and its struggle told by Javed and Shabana

By Neena Badhwar

Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar came and won Sydneysiders by acting the love story, struggle of talented writer, actor couple of Bollywood ”“ Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi. They happen to be Shabana’s parents and the play ”˜Kaifi and Me’ titled ”˜Kaifi Aur Main’ is based on book written by Shaukat in memory of her husband Kaifi.

The stage was simply set with two non decrepit simple chairs and desks and a raised platform set up on the side for ghazal singer Jaswinder Singh and his accompanying musicians. Kaifi’s memorable couplets in Urdu hung on the walls with a picture of Kaifi and Shaukat displayed in the middle.

Enter Shabana and her husband the elegant Javed Akhtar. Shabana looked stunning in her pink silk sari, turquoise blouse and a bold necklace proudly making its own statement of sorts. Shabana smiled, sat next to her husband as they started to relate the story of her parents ”“ Shabana as Shaukat and Javed as Kaifi. Javed had already won Sydney over by his manners, his liberal poetry readings the evening before a small number who witnessed a poet par excellence, his recitations had already won the hearts of a select few. We are sure they would have already got Sydney talking of things to come.

Well the night started with Shabana, sorry Shaukat relating her story of love for her young man who had written her letters in his blood as Javed, sorry Kaifi related how he became famous in the commune in Bombay where Shaukat’s dozen letters a day got pinned on the noticeboard. How though there were hurdles in the form of Shaukat’s brothers   and her fiancé Usman who even ate ”˜Neela Thotha’ the so called Copper Sulphate, was that an act or a threat if she does not marry him, the dialogues were crisp, humorous yet carried the story forward with Javed reciting Kaifi’s famous couplets which he wrote for his beloved.

Father, Abbajaan of Shaukat finally relented and stealthily took her to meet Kaifi with the motive that she would be put off by Kaifi’s minimal lifestyle in a communist commune. But the adamant Shaukat’s resolve even became more certain, that’s the life she wanted to live and share with one who became the love of her life. They married of course with Shaukat happily living with Kaifi with their household visited by the likes of Majrooh Sultanpuri, Josh Malihabadi and many well known poets of that era.

Simple yet a very literature rich atmosphere of Kaifi home as he penned many memorable songs for the film industry ”“ Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitm, Bichhde sabhi bari bari, the famous dialogues from the film ”˜Heer Ranjha’ as Jaswinder Singh was given aptly, moments to sing those songs in between, to add filmi touch to a love story that had its ups and its downs. The time when Kaifi had a stroke which left the whole household devastated, the depression, the down moments. Kaifi who retired to his village Mijwan, a paraplegic yet the fire in his belly to improve life of his backward village folks with Shaukat always by his side like a rock.

After Kaifi’s passing away, Javed insisted Shaukat finish her unfinished book and he then turned it into a tight yet beautiful script of freedom struggle, of a young man charged with passion as India awakened to find its independence, it was all dialogues read by Shabana and Javed, story charted era of the forties, the fifties to the sixties when memorable poetry was written by talented writers such as Kaifi for films. The play is directed by Ramesh Talwar, the concept conceived   in telling the story where it was their dialogues and our imagination. The audience clapped all the way through as it sat totally enamoured like a child listening and saying ”˜then what happened?’.

So impressed were the people that they rushed out to buy books of Shaukat and Kaifi on sale in the foyer as if Shabana and Javed were magnets and the crowd the iron filings around them to get the books signed. Selfies, pictures the bouncers could not keep the crowds at bay. They wanted the evening to linger for a little more with Shabana Javed slowly inching their way out to the door where a limousine waited for this talented, inspiring couple to disappear in the night.

It is important for me to add that we the audience must thank Manju Mittal and her partner Ruchi Bansal, and many other volunteers, sponsors who supported these two women who brought the play ”˜Kaifi Aur Main’ to the Australian subcontinent. It is my strong suggestion to Manju to come forward and take a bow for bringing a quality program to Sydney and Auckland. Well Done SAI Creative Arts Network SCREAN Australia. We are looking forward to more such quality shows since you have raised the bar, keep at it!

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