His pen spelt success
Javed Akhtar, whose dialogues set several movie careers soaring, confesses that writing is a difficult task
Javed Akhtar: `Scriptwriting is like a marathon race while song writing is like the 100-metre dash!' Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.
THIS POET is a hopeless optimist. Like most successful poets who've gone past. Such an optimist that he is hoping one day India and Pakistan will co-produce films. Such an optimist that he sees the Indian audience becoming more sensitive to films. An optimist who sees a resurgence of poetry in the age of remix.
Javed Akhtar of the crisp yet romantic voice, and poetry in his veins, was the same soft-spoken man who created the firebrand angry young man image for Amitabh Bachchan in films such as Zanjeer and Sholay.
Years have passed and age has caught up with the poet. Javed did write for a generation that thrived on his loaded dialogues, and he continues to write for a generation of yuppie directors he continues to work with. "I have no problem working with young directors. I respect their talent," he makes it clear. Writing the Hrithik-starrer Lakshya for son Farhan Akhtar was a rather professional experience. "It was totally a writer-director relationship. We held discussions, we made changes," he says, and adds: "And it wasn't totally ad hoc. It had nothing to do with father-son, and it would have been the same if I had worked with Ashutosh Gowariker or Karan Johar."
But audiences never take to a Lakshya or Swades the way they did to Zanjeer. Have audience sensibilities and perceptions of our films diminished? "The audience is not permanent; they change with time. This is not that same audience as before. The middle class of the '50s was different. They were educated, teachers, professors, bureaucrats and doctors. But industrialisation produced another middle-class in the '70s and '80s who weren't very educated, who for the first time brought new aesthetics and sensibilities. But things are changing again now and looking up. It will take some more time for this skin-deep sophistication and aesthetics to improve."
But the worst period of Bollywood music is over with the '80s and '90s. "Now people are beginning to feel that a heritage is lost. I meet young people in different cities and I see in them resurgence and renewed interest in poetry. They have left behind a lot of baggage in the rat race and have the privilege of looking back."
Coming from a genre of scriptwriters who could mar or make a film, Javed says it's like wondering if your building will be good even when your blueprint is shaky. "I don't think it's possible to make a good film without a good script. You can make a successful film sometimes. But that could be because of a song, or the popularity of a star or some gimmick. But it will only be short-lived. "
Javed continues to write scripts, but perhaps not with the vigour he did at the peak of his career. He was on a 10-year hiatus from scriptwriting till he took up Lakshya. "Scriptwriting is like a marathon race while song writing is like the 100-metre dash!" he chuckles. "You have to write reams and reams for a script, recording every dialogue, movement and pause. Yes, you need imagination, but it is also a lot of hard work, wears you out physically." Writing lyrics though, has been easy. Drawing inspiration for 15 to 16 lines is not a problem. "But it had better be good," says the lyricist who's drinking in all that people have to say to his lyrics for Swades. "Doing anything well is not easy," he adds.
Coming from a family of Urdu scholars, poets and teachers, where even listening to film music in childhood days was not allowed, it hasn't been easy for Javed. It's also been a long journey from Gwalior to Lucknow to Aligarh and then Bhopal. He struggled it out in Mumbai, living off friends and living in studios because he had no money. But he firmly says: "Second-generation actors and directors in Bollywood may get a break easily. But ultimately, they have to prove themselves to survive. It doesn't matter whose son or daughter they are."
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