Today is Javed Akhtar’s birthday. So check out his Filmfare Interview from August 2001.
What’s the good verse… Javed Akhtar on record
He’s the purrfect sound byte engineer. Shooting from the lip, narrating stories with easy facility, when it comes to word play, Javed Akhtar’s the raconteur for all reasons. Right from crafting the lacerating Mere paas maa hai (Deewaar) dialogue to the gossamer soft Kuch na kaho (1942-A Love Story) to the pacifist Panchhi nadiya (Refugee), Jadoo as wife Shabana Azmi calls him, words come to him as naturally as waves lapping a shore.
He prefers the old-fashioned way of putting pen to paper rather than the new fangled word processor. Yet he’s hip enough to cotton on to the lingua franca spoken by new generation directors, 20-somethings like son Farhan and daughter Zoya. From Ramesh Sippy (Andaz) to Rohan Sippy (Kuch Na Kaho), he’s seamlessly straddled two generations of mind-sets.
Rapier sharp-retorts and amiable jibes keep the air filled chez the Azmi/Akhtars. On a cold, cold night, Javed saab steams up the fiza (his favourite word) with some hot-hot banter. Excerpts:
When Shabana and I got married, it was rather late in the day to have kids. Anyone in this country who has many children is less than a patriot
Have you turned producer with Dil Chahta Hai which your son Farhan is directing?
No, nothing like that. Farhan and the producer, Ritesh Sidhwani, put my name on the credits. As a gesture of love, I think. Ritesh and Farhan have grown up together.
You’ve seen Dil Chahta Hai. Can you candidly evaluate it?
If I can be ruthless about my own work, I can be objective about Farhan as well. I liked his film. The best part is that there’s no in-breeding of ideas. I mean, the source of inspiration is not films we’ve seen in the past.
How come you didn’t write the script?
Ask Farhan. When he was a kid, every year he’d make me write a skit for his school, Maneckji Cooper. (Laughs) That too free of cost. And now, when I would have gladly written for him, he went and did his own thing. But I must add that he’s done a wonderful job.
Did he come to you for help, if he was stuck at key points?
When he narrated the script to me, I offered some suggestions. He heard me out very carefully and then rejected them all. Thank god I didn’t face rejection where my songs are concerned. (Laughs) I still have my self-esteem left.
When Farhan narrated the script to me, I made some suggestions. He heard me out very carefully and then rejected them all
Did you feel he had the germs of a good director from the beginning?
I remember when he was five, he had a tape of the dialogue of Sholay and played it in the car constantly. He’s been an avid movie buff. So I guess, making films is a natural progression.
Just as my father, uncle and grandfather were poets, somewhere I took up after them. But my style is distinctly different from theirs. Similarly, Farhan’s work bears zero resemblance to mine. Dil Chahta Hai is Farhan’s world, it’s peopled with individuals he’s met. Maybe it’s an extension of his personality. Only he could have written the film.
Were you a good father?
I wasn’t a “father” in the conventional sense of the word. Traditionally, fathers and sons have never had a communicative relationship. But Farhan, Zoya and I have had a very democratic relationship. There’s nothing in the world they can’t discuss with me. My kids can be very argumentative. (Laughs) Democracy has its own problems.
I wrote Kuch na kaho…in the times of Sarkailyo khatiya….They want either double-meaning or no meaning at all
Did your separation from your first wife, Honey Irani, make a difference to your relationship with the kids?
It would be naive on my part to believe that it must not have made a difference. But on the positive side, my children have always seen mutual respect between Honey and me. We had extremely civilised relations which kept growing better and friendlier with time. Today, Honey and I are the best of friends.
You never wanted to be a father again after marriage to Shabana Azmi?
I genuinely believe that anyone in this country who has many children is less than a patriot.
So you never felt unpatriotic even on an impulse?
When Shabana and I got married, it was rather late in the day to have kids. Also, it wasn’t very practical.
Are you a good grand dad to Farhan’s daughter Shakia?
She’s soooo small, just 10 months old. But Shabana tells me she’s quite an applause fiend. (Laughs) Just like me. Shakia and I will be friends when she grows up.
Shabana once told me that your marriage has been successful because the two of you don’t see each other for long spells.
Shabana and I were friends before marriage. And that’s how it has remained. A good relationship is one where you are not the centrifugal point and your partner is not a satellite. I mistrust love without respect. There are a lot of couples who claim to be in love but have zero respect for each other. That’s not the real thing.
Shabana tells me Shakia, my granddaughter, is quite an applause fiend. Just like me
Is pain an essential part of every writer’s make-up?
Pain is an inexorable part of everybody’s life, not just a writer’s. But I’d never glamorise it. I’ve experienced as much pain or happiness as the next man. A creative person uses it in his work as a source of inspiration. (Laughs) That doesn’t mean I’m going to write dard bhare geet all the time.
What do you think of Honey’s scripts?
As I said, we are the best of friends. We understand each other much better now. I think Honey’s best equipped to deal with emotions like romance, marriage, the man-woman equation. Plus a woman’s perspective tends to be more sensitive. Why probe into areas like violence which have been done to death by millions of male writers?
I was impressed with her work in Lamhe and Kya Kehna. She’s ready to direct a sensitive romantic film with Anil Kapoor for which I’ll write the dialogue and lyrics.
What happened to the Angry Young Man in our movies you gave voice to?
(Laughs) Well, he’s around doing a great job with KBC. On a metaphoric level, you can’t be angry with the world all the time. When you tire of anger, you turn into a cynic. But you can’t be cynical for too long either. You want a better world. Maybe in today’s films, the heroes have moved from the angry young man to, what shall I say, the Happy Young Yuppie.
In the ’70s, there was a clear anti-establisment wave. I’m not so sure of the morality today. A programme like KBC is a huge hit. It’s about pursuing big money, isn’t it? It’s become legitimate. While there was a time when movies said that pursuit of money was a bad thing. Earlier owning up to our aspirations was not the ideal.
Today, putting one’s self before others is cool. But yes, there are no wars to be fought, no ideals to be chased. There are no collective dreams, collective aspirations or resolutions. And that shows in our films. To each his own is the new mantra. (Laughs) At the most, today life offers you four choices-a, b, c, and d. But you are alone in the hot seat.
How come no actor ever matched up to the magic of Amitabh Bachchan?
Amitabh Bachchan, to state the obvious, is an exceptionally good actor. And fortunately he came at a time when an image was looking for an actor. Today, there are some competent actors but there is no image that can personify the collective dreams and aspirations of the the audience.
Today, at 56, are you happy with the life you’ve led?
Life has been kind to me. But I honestly feel I could have done much more than what I have…and there’s still a lot left to be done.
As a lyricist, do you have to kow-tow to powerful music barons?
I’m open to anyone’s suggestions. Right from a powerful music baron to an assistant director. But I will not be pushed. I think my job is to satisfy the director and the music director, not some anpadh money bag who has nothing to do with the process of creativity.
A couple of times, these so-called music barons tried to arm- twist me, but I refused to budge. (Grins) Ultimately, the poor souls had to remove me from the film. I’d like to tell these pour souls that my very dear friend Naresh Goyal heads an airline. He owns aircrafts. But he doesn’t enter the cockpit and tell the pilot how to fly a plane. Naresh knows flying a plane is a pilot’s job.
How much are you willing to be pushed around?
I’m aware that film-making is a collaborative effort, it’s team-work. But I can’t be loyal to a team at the cost of my aesthetic sense or morality. I would rather walk-out. In such situations, I’ve always walked out and wondered what makes people so gutless. Why can’t they take a stand? There’s a Laxman rekha which I will not cross.
So have you always flown against the tide?
(Mirthfully) I wrote Kuch na kaho… (1942-A Love Story) in the times of Sarkailyo khatiya… (Raja Babu). The proposal makers either want double-meaning or no meaning (gibberish) at all.
Okay, when are you going to write a film like Shakti again?
I’m suddenly feeling more charged than ever before. I’m writing a couple of scripts, it’s for others to evaluate how good they are.
Is there a line of dialogue or song which best encapsulates your life?
Oooof, I’m not so self-indulgent. I’d hate to be a narcissist and say this line best describes me.
I like the line from Main Azaad Hoon. Where Amitabh and Shabana sit on a hillock and he says: Kabhi kabhi mera dil chahta hai ki mein raat ko chup ke se uthkar duniya ke saare gham mita doon… Hey, I don’t remember the line too well. But paraphrased, it meant: I wish I could go quietly in the night and ease all the pain in the world. And in the morning, people would wake up to a beautiful world.
Finally which form of writing comes more easily? Dialogue like Mere paas ma hain (Deewaar) or lyrics like Sandese aate hain (Border).
Nothing comes easy. Or else I’d write a Deewaar or Sandese aate hain every time I put pen to paper.
What do you enjoy more–scriptwriting or lyrics?
I enjoy writing both. The difference between scrpt- writing and writing lyrics is the difference between a marathon race and a 100 yards run.
In a marathon, a runner has to work out an elaborate strategy, on which lap you’ll pick up speed etc. Script-writing is like that. You can plan your moves, work on your technique. Whereas writing lyrics is akin to a 100-metre dash, there’s no time to vacillate. You have to say everything in those 12 lines, you can’t afford to write one wrong word.
Don’t mean to sound immodest, I’ve won 11 Filmfare Awards and I’m the only person to have won in all the four writing categories– story, dialogue, screenplay, lyrics.
Finally, how do you decide on your choice of words?
Do you ask Sachin Tendulkar what technique he decides on when the balls comes at him at 90 kms an hour? Similarly, words just come to me instinctively. It could be either guns or roses.