Four days after the nonagenarian talented actor, committed activist, muse to her poet husband and working mom Shaukat Kaifi breathed her last an evening celebrate her life with music and memories hosted by the Azmi family - including her five-time national awardee actor-activist daughter Shabana and cinematographer son Baba Azmi, actor daughter-in-law Tanvi and lyricist-poet son-in-law Javed Akhtar - saw a huge turn out with an evening full of laughter, memories and choked emotional moments.
Apart from the actor sisters Tabu and Farah who are related to to the Azmis from Shaukat's side of the family, actors Kajol, Padmini Kolhapure, Tina Ambani (nee Munim), Ila Arun, Zarina Wahab, Neena Gupta, Poonam Dhillon, Tisca Chopra, Divya Dutta, Aditi Rao Hydari, Jeetendra, Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan and Sunil Grover were also present at the gathering which had filmmakers Shyam Benegal, Madhur Bhandarkar, Ashutosh Gowariker, David Dhawan in attendance at the tastefully decorated and lit Juhu auditorium.
The evening started off on a perfect note with violinist Manas Kumar's rendition of Raga Des. The choice of both the raga and the instrument was dictated by the late doyenne's choice. This was followed by a performance by silken-voiced Jaswinder Singh. While introducing him, Shabana Azmi pointed out how Shaukat Aapa had known him since he was a little boy. “While others got a taste of both her love and occasional anger, with him it has only been love given her fondness for his talent.” She recounted how her mom had embarrassed her by gushing loudly and effusively unmindful of people around when she watched her Ankur. “But just because she never held back on what she felt she could be extremely dangerous be around,” laughed the actor, “I'd done another film (which I'd rather not name) she saw and trounced equally loudly. She told me, 'Had I known you're doing such a terrible film I would've gotten you married and never let you pursue a career in films.' All this was said totally unmindful of others present. So Jaswinder has been very lucky.”
The ghazal exponent rendered a special nazm composed by the late Kaifi saab for his beloved muse - zindagi naam hai kuch lamhon ka – which describes the daily quiet bonding over tea between the couple for over five and a half decades. Jaswinder Singh followed this nazm with another of Shaukat Aapa's favourite Mirza Ghalib ghazal -
Dil-e-nādāñ tujhe huā kyā hai?
āḳhir iss dard kī davā kyā hai?
Shabana Azmi recounted how she was overjoyed when Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen wrote the blurb in which he praised Shaukat Aapa's book, Kaifi and I and dashed off to tell her mom. “She just asked, 'Who is this Amartya?' But when she heard he was an internationally renowned economist her demeanour changed.” In the evening to celebrate Sen's praise for her book she bought a whopping 16 saris! Shabana's protests over these being far too many were brushed off with: “You keep quiet! Have you ever been appreciated by Amartya Sen?”
Never one to believe she had enough saris she was very particular about the matching blouses she stitched herself. “Once I asked her how she decided on the matching colours she asked me to look at nature for inspiration.” Shabana also recounted a funny episode when the entire family was sprawled in front of the TV to watch her get the national award. “She was livid to see my choice of blouse and felt I had no sense of matching. The TV was ordered to be turned off and she wouldn't allow anyone to watch,” smiled Shabana.
Also, pointing out how particular she was about not only about dressing up herself but also others, close family-friend, film historian, author and stylist Bhavna Somaaya (who has styled Shabana Azmi in several films) remembered rushing to the hospital where Shaukat Aapa was admitted lately at odd hours. “She admonished me: 'Arre Bhavna why don't you take care of how you look? You aren't even wearing any lipstick,' and then remembered she was also not wearing any. The nurse was summoned and asked to comb her hair and help fix her lipstick forthwith.”
Somaaya also recollected how Shabana was extremely stressed about the scene in Arth where her character Pooja confronts her husband and his lady love at a party. “The scene required some really rough, raw language and had to yet stay within the limits of being emotional. Shabana was worried it could end up looking too negative and voiced her concerns to her parents. Kaifi Azmi, the man who of few words, just nodded as was his wont and kept quiet but not Shaukat.” The late actor chided her daughter, “She just told Shabana: 'We are not concerned with your discomfort. Here's a character who feels cheated and is angry.' And just like that she had in her signature brusque manner dispelled all of Shabana's worries. She went on to get a lot of acclaim for that scene and even won a national award for Arth.”
She also reminded the audience of how Shaukat Aapa completely took over caring for Kaifi saab when he was hit with paralysis. “She took him to so many doctors, soothsayers, dargahs, temples and what have you. All because she wanted to see him back in form. When he decided to go to Mijwan in UP in that condition to live there, she went along and helped him establish the community network in the initial years.”
Somaaya was emotional remembering the first time she kept roza and Shaukat Aapa had given her water to break the fast. “My first Ganga jamni sari was a gift from her. Even when I was going through a lot in life she had gotten a specially blessed amulet to protect me. I still keep it with me as a dear possession.”
Like Shabana, her husband lyricist and scriptwriter too brought up her candour and recounted how she once told him during the screening of a film: “Logon ke himmat ki daad deni padegi ki aise bhaddi filmein banaate hain (It must take exemplary courage to make a terrible film like this).” He says he slunk away and the film went on to flop. Later he met her when Trishul was being screened. “When I went up to her in the break and greeted her with salaam, she immediately said: 'Haan yeh waali theek hai (This one's okay).”
He spoke of how she had a terrible memory for names. “Given that I am the only son-in-law I thought I would be spared this. But no she had forgotten my name while introducing me to her sister in law,” he said. He also said that the sorrow of her passing on is still too close. “In a while, I might be able to process this and compose something in her memory.”
Daughter-in-law Tanvi remembered a car ride with the family when she was newly married. “I saw a slide and called out there was a ghasargundi (Marathi word for slide) and the entire family burst out laughing. I asked her, 'Mummy what do you call it and she said: Fisalbanda.' I remember smiling at my first moral victory.”
Screenwriter, dialogue writer and playwright Javed Siddiqui credited her with mentoring him to become what he is today. “Shaukat’s first role was in Ismat Chughtai’s Dhani Bankein, a play on the Hindu-Muslim riots that were tearing the fabric of a newly-independent India. Soon, she got drawn into the country’s most vigorous cultural movement that had the likes of Zohra Sehgal, Uzra Butt, Bhisham Sahni and Prithviraj Kapoor among its stalwarts. While the catalyst for IPTA was the Bengal famine, it continued to be active long after the progressives waned, and Shaukat toured the country with a band of committed young actors intent upon creating a new theatrical vocabulary and aesthetics.”