Javed Akhtar on his fascination for villains, creating space for female characters, and life after amendments in the copyright laws.
We love our heroes but do the people who create them find them as fascinating?
As one proceeded to meet one of the foremost screenwriters of this generation, Javed Akhtar, on the sidelines of the launch of Zee Classic’s second season of “Classic Legends”, the channel’s press note had Pran’s name on the top of Akhtar’s list of actors, whose contributions he will discuss this season. Today’s youngsters may not be able to understand the fear the mere mention of Pran generated. But a generation dreaded his next move on screen, so much so that when he was on top, no kid was named Pran.
Akhtar, who has given us Gabbar Singh and Mogambo, says he has always thoroughly enjoyed writing the dialogues of villain because they give him freedom from all kinds of morality and bindings of civilised behaviour. “He can say anything, he can do anything. He can express his wildest desires without any embarrassment or any sense of guilt and that rather fascinates me.” When children visit a zoo, says Akhtar, they first of all rush towards a cage where the most dangerous animal is kept.
“They watch the birds later. First they want to see a black panther or a python. We have a fascination for dangerous animals and it is that attraction that works between the audience and the villain as well. If you bring a tiger and say it is a man eater, half of Delhi will turn up to see it. And then, you say no, it just a tiger and not a man eater, the number will reduce by half. That’s how it is. The more unabashed, cruel a villain is, the more fascinating he becomes. It is a matter of psychological study that why a villain like Gabbar was popular with children. Mogambo was equally a cult figure. They had no justification about being bad. There was no sob story. There was nothing heroic about them.”
Another feature of Salim-Javed’s writing that largely went unnoticed was the treatment of their female characters. Agrees Akhtar, “Except for ‘Seeta Aur Geeta’, we may not have written female-oriented films but all the female characters in our films were realistic. They were persons with their own mind. We gave them dignity and respected their individuality. They were not namby-pamby dumb blondes. In ‘Trishul’, Rakhee and Hema Malini played strong characters and so did Nirupa Roy and Parveen Babi in ‘Deewaar’.”
Akhtar often faces the charge of giving way to dialogues more than songs and in a sense melody suffered. “And then, I became a lyricist!” he jovially interrupts. “The temperament of the character, which was later called angry young man, didn’t provide much space for songs. Had the space been created then, it would have diluted the character. Earlier, if they used to bring such a character, they used to add romance, songs and humour to it. It used to take away its intense, pure form. The person you saw in ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Deewaar’ and ‘Trishul’ was undiluted.”
Talking of songs, Akhtar says though he comes from a family of poets and used to write poems he had no interest in turning a lyricist. “Yash Chopra was single-handedly responsible for turning me into a lyricist. It was not that he asked me to contribute one of my poems. I wrote to the tune of “Dekha Ek Khwab To Yeh Silsile Huye”.
Times have changed. Today, a villain could be the hero till the end as his son Farhan has proved in “Don” and its sequel. Not only that, everybody seems to be in a rush too. The patience to weave a character is missing.
Akhtar says yes and no. He feels in the past decade or so, the content left much to be desired but in the last couple of years, the industry has caught up with content. “We seem to be back on track. As for the pace of narration, earlier we used to write a letter which would reach in three days and then we would receive the reply in another three days. As a result, a simple communication would take ten days. Now you get an email within a minute. You have a phone in your pocket. There was a time, not too far back, when we used to think ki bhaai yahan phone kahan milega. The life’s tempo has increased and in this milieu, the tempo of our narratives is bound to increase.”
But after intermission, the so-called independent voices still conform to accepted norms. “The structure of our screenplays is such that the first half is spread out and in the second half, we try to conclude. While spreading out, you can be totally unconventional because you are presenting a problem but while moving towards the conclusion, quite a lot of people fear social pressures and popular emotions. Sometimes the narrative gets exhausted and they have to push it somehow.”
So Vijay has to return to his mother’s lap?
“This is an old issue that you have raised.” Akhtar looks a little surprised. “Did he return to the mother because of his ideology or his emotion is still debatable. After all, the mother also went to the temple to see him. It is also some kind of acceptance.”
Victory and loss
Javed Akhtar was lauded by fellow composers and lyricists for his efforts in getting the Copyright Act amended, giving writers, composers and lyricists a fair share in revenues in the form of royalties but this led to a call for his boycott from the producers. He has only been writing songs for his son Farhan Akhtar’s production company. “Talaash” is the latest example.
“Eight to ten months back, some people raised a voice to boycott me but later they said that they just suggested it. I am not bothered about it. I don’t think the gap that you see in my work is because of a boycott call. It is just that the work on some of the films is not complete and some of the films got delayed.” Kamal Haasan’s “Vishwaroopam” is an example. “I don’t think you can have this kind of diktat in the film industry. There is complete harmony between composers and writers.”
As a writer did he see any logic in the producers’ behaviour all these years? “There is very simple logic and this logic existed for centuries. Those who control the resources they don’t like to give you a fair deal.”