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The Silsila continues

MONOJIT LAHIRI gives us a rundown on the career of Javed Akhtar who seems to defy time, trend, everything.

Javed Akhtar.

MENTION JAVED Akhtar and myriad images flash across mind's radar screen. The joint creator of the unforgettable Angry Young Man who blitzed through the seventies in the shape of the iconic Amitabh Bachchan. The sensitive poet whose book of poems, "Tarkash" continues to attract several re-prints. The best selling lyricist whose astonishing range cuts across all categories and genres, from Sardari Begum and Zubeidaa to Chalte Chalte and Main Hoon Na. The secular social activist who - with wife Shabana Azmi - never fails to be counted whenever and wherever there is a major issue at stake. A mind-blowing raconteur who can have people mesmerised with his spellbinding yarns. An amazing humorist who continues to have the most serious-minded guys in splits. Imagine his life story! Why not let him script it for us...

Recalls Javed Akhtar, "Like crores of Indian kids, the Bollywood bug bit me when I was four! I had been taken to a Dilip Kumar-starrer called Aan. That started my life-long affair with the movies. At home, because my father was a Leftist poet, books, mostly Russian classics, were aplenty and by the time I was around 15, I had read most of Dostovesky, Pushkin, Chekov and even Toltstoy. They certainly influenced my literary bandwidth. At school, since I was the poorest student, I longed to possess the worldly comforts my classmates did in terms of good clothes, solid pocket money, yummy snacks, huge cars... Now when you add movies, literature and money, you get filmbiz!"

Early starter

He indeed started early. "Right from school I was sure about one thing: After graduation I would head for Mumbai and join the film industry as an assistant to a director whom I idolised. Unfortunately within a week of my landing in Mumbai, he killed himself. However, Kamal Amrohi hired me as an assistant and from there it was a long struggle to get jobs and make ends meet. But never for a moment did I want to pack and go home. Something told me, good things would happen. I was prepared to wait."

Then came Salim. "Salim Saab and I had met earlier during one of the flop films we worked in, he as an actor, Prince Salim, and me as Guy Friday! Much later when both of us had loads of time on our hands due to our unemployed status, we exchanged story ideas and found we vibed brilliantly. We subsequently worked on a screenplay together, Adhikar, with modest success. At that point, someone mentioned that the Sippys were planning to set up a story department. We decided we had nothing to lose and went for the interview, high on attitude. Amazingly, we got the job with a monthly pay packet of Rs.750! I was convinced I had arrived! From there on, we just flew. Andaz, Seeta Aur Geeta, Haathi Mere Saathi, Zanjeer.... We never looked back!"

Then the hunger vanished. "It's possible that success made me soft, complacent, predictable and boring. Cut me off from the realities which drove my earlier scripts. I recognised it, decided to pull out and return only when that hunger to write returned. I was a closet poet for years but it was Yash Chopra who was responsible for bringing it out in the open, with some very savvy persuasion with Silsila. Once that happened, I suddenly found myself hugely enjoying this new genre of writing as also creative process. The enjoyment continues."

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