Javed Akhtar On Staying Relevant, Narrating Scripts To His Children

He talks about the upcoming India Shayari Project, going back to scriptwriting and why songs, in current times, fail to satisfy him as a lyricist
Javed Akhtar On Staying Relevant, Narrating Scripts To His Children

This Independence Day, Javed Akhtar will be seen headlining Zee5's special featurette, India Shayari Project, that aims to celebrate poets and poetry. In a candid chat, the renowned screenwriter, lyricist and poet talks about the show, how a pen and paper is an essential for him while writing, pitching ideas to his children, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar, and his take on the current music industry.

Edited excerpts:

Anupama Chopra: Tell me more about India Shayari Project. Why did you agree to be a part of it?

Javed Akhtar: I found it interesting because they've collected people from almost all the generations available at the moment. It is not actually correct that people are losing interest in poetry. Maybe the source of communication has changed. If you go on to YouTube, or any other channel, you'll realize that there is a huge audience and following of poetry and poets. The younger generation has found what is missing in their lives, if I may say so, and they are discovering poetry on their own; and I'm very happy telling you that the young poets have developed a new metaphor, language and style. I'm very positive about poetry and its future, and the connection between the young generation and the poems.

AC: Tell me about your writing process. When do you write? Where do you write? Do you have some rules for yourself like, 'I have to sit in front of the computer for so many hours.' How do you do it? Has the process changed in the last 4-5 decades?

JA: I only write when I feel that I won't be able to meet my deadline. It is the terror which is the basic motivation in my life. So when I am terrorized that now I won't be able to meet this deadline, then my neurons start working. And once it is working, then even in the midst of a party, I can write. People talking or moving around doesn't disturb me at all. The only condition I have is that personally, I prefer a blank paper sheet, not a lined one. But if I get the lined one and the other paper is not available, I'll write on that also but I will be slightly unhappy. I feel more confident if there are no lines on the paper.

AC: So you never moved to a computer? You still write longhand?

JA: Yes, longhand. I can send messages on the computer, I can send letters, I use Twitter, and so on. But when I'm doing some creative writing, when I'm writing poetry or even dialogue, then I need a pen and a paper. Because it happens somewhere between the point of the nib and paper. 

AC: You have reinvented yourself with every decade you've worked in – right from writing 'Hawa Hawaii' in the 80s to 'Doori' from Gully Boy two years ago. How do you do this? How do you talk to the time you're in?

JA: I have not reinvented myself at all. Because it cannot be that kind of planned action. And if you plan to reinvent, you'll be caught, because that will be fake. What you call reinvention means remaining in sync with the current generation. You cannot have a policy that I will do this and that will be good for me and that is where I will be right. That's not possible. It has to be genuine and real. We tend to believe that anyone who is born after us has a lesser intellect than us. But at the same time, we are not willing to believe that anyone who was born before us, was wider than us. That is wrong. Intelligence and intellect, after a person has become an adult, is equaled. They are equals. And you must have respect for the younger generation because they understand the contemporary world better than you. You have something that they don't know, but they also have a lot that you don't know. If there is mutual respect and communication, you'll remain contemporary. The moment you think, 'This is the way I can be contemporary, I should do that,' not from the heart, but as a policy, it won't work. I genuinely respect young people and I'm very impressed by their talent and caliber. I try to learn from them. I offer them a lot of learning – quite often they don't accept that gift. But that doesn't matter, it doesn't discourage me, I continue giving them that offer. 

AC: You said in an interview that you are working on three scripts and writing a short film. Can you tell us anything about these projects? 

JA: The short film actually just got shot. That's all I can say right now. After long time, I have come back to scripts. The last script that I'd written was for Lakshya (2004). And now I've prepared a script where Farhan will be playing the lead, which will be directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. I'm also on the last lap of another script which Zoya wants to direct. I had narrated that idea to her. And then there is one more complete script that I have given to somebody. Once they get back to me on it, I can tell you whether they are making it or not. 

The truth is, nowadays, more often than not, songs are not giving me the kind of satisfaction that they were providing me 7-10 years back. I think the industry is going through some strange process. But gradually, you will see, like any other country in the West, the music industry will find its own bearing and identity. For 5-6 decades, music was a part of film only, and only film music used to get popular. But this is changing because film is almost abdicating music. Now, most of the songs are in the background and most of the songs are in the area of gibberish. There is no value of the word, it's all fast beats, that's all. They are called item songs – but even item songs should have some meaning. There's no harm, meanings don't hurt, so we shouldn't be that scared of it. But that is how the situation is. Gradually, you will see a huge music industry developing on its own.

AC: You mentioned narrating an idea to Zoya, who is your daughter. How do you pitch an idea? How do you narrate it? You are the legendary Javed Akhtar, she's a very fine director. How is the professionalism in this relationship? How does it work?

JA: She's not at all impressed by me. Somebody should tell her that I'm a legend. That information is yet to reach her (laughs). But it's perfectly alright. And why only Farhan or Zoya? I'm working with so many people who are like my children because I have worked with their parents.

I genuinely respect their talent. Zoya is my daughter, but the fact is that I have great respect for her as a writer and as a director. I think she is a very fine scriptwriter, I am very impressed by her work. So if you genuinely respect the talent of young people, then there is no generation gap. If you think that you know all the answers and you know everything – 'hamare zamaane mein aisa hota tha' – then that's nonsense! 'Pehle bahut achchi filmein banti thi…' It was nothing like that. Some films used to be good but most of them used to be atrocious. Even today, most of the films are bad, some of them are good. It has always been like that. 

AC: In your poem Likh, you say, "Jo baat kehte darte hain sab, tu woh baat likh, Itni andheri thhi na kabhi pehle raat, likh" (To speak of that which everyone is fearful, of that you must write. The night was never so dark ever before, write). Do you believe that poetry can change the world?

JA: Poetry is not an aspirin that you pop in and the headache goes away. Poetry is like a vitamin. If you keep consuming it, gradually your aesthetics, the muscles of your intellect develop. And an aesthetic sense is necessary, because aesthetics tell you what is ugly and what is beautiful. And whatever is crude, indecent, unjust, that is ugly. And whatever is just, fair, empathetic, sympathetic, is beautiful. So I think ultimately if you keep on consuming poetry and literature, prose, novels, short stories, they tell you two things. One, people are so different from each other, two, how similar they are. And both these facts may sound contrary, but that is how life is. So when you start understanding people, that develops empathy in you, that develops a better person in you.

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