Kaifinama: Before and Beyond the Culture Industry

A documentary film on the life of Kaifi Azmi views the poet’s work and life as a cultural product, and as an embodiment of “the personal is political.”

On 29 September 2019, the South Asian Film Festival in Montreal began with the screening of Kaifinama, a documentary on the life of the Indian poet Kaifi Azmi (1919–2002). The screening was in the presence of Sumantra Ghosal, the director of the film, and actor-activist Shabana Azmi, Kaifi’s (as the poet was known) daughter and the film’s producer.

While the film’s focus is biographical, it also proves to be a primer on the left-leaning ethos of cultural production in mid- and late-20th-century India. Kaifi Azmi’s work and lifestyle were deliberately constructed by, indebted to, and involved in the climate of socialism, secularism, and gender liberation—ideologies and goals that were also visible in other contemporaneous cultural forms. The film provides an interesting obverse image to the dominant modes of cultural production in present times, where enshrined ideas are either unabashedly communal (from films like Padmaavat [2018] to Bajrangi Bhaijaan [2015]) or nationalistic (the whole panoply of war and military-based movies, such as Uri [2019], that put the jingoism of Border [1997] to shame). To make matters worse, feminism—even as an ideal—has long been abandoned in mainstream Indian cinema (consider Dangal [2016], in which misogyny masquerades as gender liberation).

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Updated On : 14th Jan, 2020

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