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Main to wohikarunga jo karta aaya hoon: Javed Akhtar

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If the truth be told it’s a  life well  verse living. On January 17, poet , screenwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar turns 72 . 

The occasion triggered  off a  train of  thoughts on  the sorry state of music and cinema in these troubled times. Son of the renowned poet-lyricist Jan Nissar Akhtar, Javed  shares his troubled conscience with Subhash K Jha

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How do you look back on the 40 years of your career as a  scriptwriter and lyricist?

There have been bruises and pleasures, achievements and failures…both are equally  integral to life.  But in totality life has been kind. Without trying to be over-modest, I’d like to say that I wasted about 10 of those 40 years. If I had worked in a more disciplined way I’d have done a lot more. That’s a lingering regret. I’m trying to compensate for that lost time. But I don’t think I can. Today  I’m in competition with only with myself. If I look at the mediocrity  all around me  I can only get depressed.

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Javed Saab, you’ve made poetry  accessible  to the common man…

Isn’t that what  poetry is supposed to do?   If you can’t communicate your  lines to the common man  then why  are you  making your  art public?  Some artistes say they don’t care   if their art  is not understood.  There should be  some difference between  your  diary and shairi.

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What do you feel about the falling standards of  music in our films?

It can be best expressed by what Lataji sang Silsila—my first film as a lyricist—Yehkahan aa gaye hum. Jo  halaat hain ussmein kya karen?  I think the songs are a  part of the narrative. If the narrative is of an inferior quality, the situations  are bound to be inferior. These in turn demand inferior songs. Songs for Kaagaz Ke Phool, Pyaasa or Baiju Bawra could only have been possible in those films.  Those songs couldn’t be a part of a film today. Also, there’s a kind of fear in filmmakers that audiences’ attention span has shortened. Hence there’s  a frenzied tempo in the narrative at the cost of depth. When  songs run at a frantic speed words are no longer important. And since words no longer register as poetry or anything near it, lyricists are allowed to get away with anything. The quality of music also is very unsympathetic towards poetic lyrics.  The people who are extracting work out of lyricists aren’t  trained to understand poetry. Earlier on  composers understood music and poetry. Sachin Dev Burman wasn’t fluent in  Hindi.  But  his  sense of poetry was still impeccable. Something is wrong with society  at large. In our educational system the Hindustani and Urdu languages are  being marginalized. We ‘re living in an era  of  a  cultural void.

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How do you manage to keep your head above water?

It has taken me  a  lot of time  to  come to where I am. When initially my lyrics did well I was offered a  lot of films. I  declined all the films where I felt I’d have to write something I didn’t want to,and couldn’t. The film industry got the message loud and clear. Yeh agar likhenge to iss terah se warna nahin. I cannot go beyond my inbuilt  sense of morality. Today I work one-fifth of other successful lyricists. And I don’t rgret it. You ask me how I seek out good projects. I think such projects seek me out. I admit there aren’t too many filmmakers and composers I’m comfortable with. Main to wohikarunga jo karta aaya hoon. No bad language, no grammatically incorrect metres for me. Poets can take liberties but within the given grammatical structures.

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Who have been your idols as a lyric writer?

Shailendra  and Sahir Ludhianvi have written mindblowing songs.  Why just them?  Majrooh Sultanpuri, Jan Nissar Akhtar,  Raja Mehndi Ali Khan, Bharat Vyas, Pradeep,Kaifi Azmi, even today’s popular Sameer’s father Anjaan…they’ve  all written exceptional songs. I’ve set certain standards for myself. I believe  language is for communication.  What’s the point of writing a song  if it doesn’t communicate itself to the listeners? My father Jan Nissar Akhtar used to say, it’s very easy to write difficult songs and very difficult to write easy songs. A simple language possesses a kind of transparency which a lyricist can afford only when he’s sure of his ideas.You have to be very clear about your ideas to write simply. If you enter a dark room and you don’t know where the light switches, you keep groping in the dark. I’d like to believe I  know where the switches are. Ambiguity forbids simple expression. I shy away from ambiguity.

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Why aren’t you writing screenplays any more?

At one stage I felt I was becoming a mechanical scriptwriter. I felt I was moving towards mediocrity. Before that happened I stopped and concentrated on what excited me, namely lyric writing. In recent times I was enthused to script my son’s film Lakshya.  I’ll not do commissioned screenwriting. I’ll write when I feel galvanized into the process.As for writing talent, Gulzar Saab is an exceptionally talented  dialogue writer. But yes, we need script writers.  There’s dearth of new ideas among them. The good screenplay writers are filmmakers themselves, for example  Karan Johar , Ashutosh Gowariker , Farhan Akhtar  and  Aditya Chopra .

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Do you see hope among our contemporary filmmakers?

Even if we lose everything else we shouldn’t lose hope(laughs). Sanjay Leela Bhansali(whom I haven’t worked with so far), Karan Johar, Ashutosh Gowariker….they’re extremely talented. Technically our films have progressed. The same cannot be said about the content. And the problem is outside the film industry. Earlier  on we had ideals philosophies  and values upon which the heroes and villains of our films were based. But without sanskar it’s difficult to tell black from white. Film do not address themselves to social issues any longer. There’re no  Sujata or Paigham being made. Earlier the mill owner was the bad man and the farmer was good. We no longer know  who’s bad and good any longer!

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To what do you attribute this aridity of moral values in art?

Somewhere our society’s collective morality is lost. There’s a kind of moral confusion in our society which reflects in our films. Filmmakers are hiding behind romance, ghost stories, murder mysteries and sex. No film is looking at social issues. Swades and Lakshya  were made .They flopped. We suffer from a lack of history and sanskar. When Lakshya which I wrote, flopped I felt the time wasn’t right for me to write screenplays right now. How can better socially relevant films be made if they don’t get the audiences’ support?But I intend to return to screenplay writing this year.

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How do people like you intend to stop the desecration of aesthetics in Hindi cinema?

I’m not pessimistic   about the future. I feel things are  changing. If you listen to the film songs between 1985 and 1995 they were in extremely bad taste. I’d say comparatively things are better now. Gradually people  feel the need for an improvement  in lyrics and melodies. There’s a resistance to mediocrity. It may take another 5-6 years. But we’re moving towards a renaissance.

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Your closing thoughts on the quality of lyrics today?

How I miss the masters!   Today only Lata Mangeshkar remains.  There’s no singer in this universe who can intone words the way she can.  Even if you don’t know the meaning of  a word you know by her expression. That’s what a lyricist craves for.

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Rakesh Roshan: “Everything I  Know  About Acting & Direction, I Learnt From K Vishwanathji”

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Rakesh Roshan

The  mighty moviemaker K Vishwanath who  was to Telugu cinema what  Satyajit Ray  was  to Bengali cinema,  passed  away on February 2,leaving behind a luminous  legacy.

Acto-director Rakesh Roshan  who had  the  rare honour of working  in four projects  with  Vishwanath recalls him with tremendous respect. “Everything I know  about acting and  direction I learnt from  him. He was  a stalwart , an institution, and so passionate about his work. I had the privilege  of being directed  by him in two films Aurat Aurat Aurat  and Shubh Kamna. He would show  his actors  exactly what he  wanted, down to the minutest gesture.His  understanding  of the medium was  extraordinary.”

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Rakesh Roshan remembers how  he  invited Vishwanath to make films for him. “I produced  two films that Vishwanathji directed. One  was Kaamchor, the other was Jaag Utha  Insaan.While the  first was  a runaway success, the second didn’t do well.”

Speaking on how Kaamchor happened Rakesh recalls, “Vishwanathji and I used to meet socially in Hyderabad.We  wanted to work together. But we had  no script.One evening when we met he  looked very depressed. When I asked him what was wrong, he  said his new release Shubodayam  (in Telugu) had  flopped. That  night I went to see Shobodayam  in  a theatre in Hyderabad. The  next morning I  told Vishwanathji, ‘We’ve  found our script’. I told him where  the  storytelling in Shubhodayam  had gone wrong.We corrected the script and that’s how Kaamchor  happened. Although the entire story revolved  around me,  it was Jaya Prada who benefited  from Kaamchor.”

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About the beautiful  Jaag Utha Insaan , Rakesh Roshan admits  bluntly, “It  flopped because  of miscasting. During those days Sridevi was known  in Hindi cinema as a glamorous heroine. We cast her as classical dancer. Mithun Chakraborty had  the image  of  Gun Master G-9 and  Disco Dancer.We cast him as  a downtrodden  underdog. I was  known  for Kaamchor and  other citybred characters,I was cast as a Brahmin pandit.With other actors Jaag Utha  Insaan would have been a superhit”

Rakesh met K Vishwanath six years  ago. “We were shooting for Krissh in Hyderabad. He came on  the set several  times. We  had so much to say to each other. After that we lost contact. He was  very very busy with many projects. K Vishwanathji lived  for his cinema.”

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As His Latest Work Faraaz Releases Today,  Hansal Mehta Speaks To Subhash  K Jha On The Exciting Times Ahead

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Faraaz

Hansal, Faraaz is  your fifteenth directorial  venture. How does it feel to have come so far  with so many  milestones behind you?

don’t count my films. Genuinely. Every film is a new beginning. Every film has its share of uncertainty and nerves. Perhaps it is also because of the choices I make. There is no scope for either complacency or me carrying a false sense of security. I’m not complaining,though. Living life on the edge keeps me going.

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I  consider  Faraaz to be  a part of your great trilogy on  the dynamics  of terrorism, after  Shahid and  Omerta…where do you see Faraaz  positioned  in your creative ambit?

Thank you , Subhash.Faraaz is a film I’m very, very proud of. It was a challenge to pull off, a tough journey but creatively a very satisfying one. As Rajkummar Rao told me after watching the film , the Trilogy is complete now. Time to explore new stories and new characters. And finish post-production for all the exciting things that we shot for over the past eighteen months.

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Out of curiosity which of your films  have given you  the most creative  satisfaction?

Almost every film Shahid onwards has been immensely satisfying , both in terms of process and the outcome. Save a couple that I need not name. But even those I own for all their flaws, failures, deficiencies and redeeming qualities. But Faraaz has been a great process. I’ve made so many new friends in this journey and found some of the most exciting colleagues that I’m proud to introduce through the film. Writers Raghav Kakkar and Kashyap Kapoor (who co-wrote the film with Ritesh Shah), Cinematographer Pratham Mehta, Sound Designer Mandar Kulkarni, Editor Amitesh Mukherjee, co-producers Sahil, Maz and Sakshi – all of whom have given their blood and sweat to make this film happen. And of course Anubhav Sinha one of my oldest friends in the industry who backed me in telling this story just the way I wanted it. So yes, Faraaz has been satisfying and also filled me with a deep sense of gratitude. I must have done something right, no?

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Of course. Faraaz has a lot of young new actors in it. Tell me  about the  process  of  casting in this film? It couldn’t have been easy since there are dozens  of faces?

That was the challenge and the joy of making this film. I worked on the story during Chhalaang and I always knew that it would be a return to my indie roots for Faraaz. The film had to be made. And it needed fresh faces, bereft of image or trappings of stardom. A huge credit to Mukesh Chhabra who has a huge role to play in my filmography since Shahid. We constantly challenge each other and never ever give up. Casting is a process I really enjoy and finding the right talent to bring characters alive is something I thrive upon. Faraaz has an amazing ensemble. Right from Aditya Rawal , Zahan Kapoor, Juhi Babbar to every small character in the film including the officers, parents and the hostages this one is a triumph of honest casting , casting without an eye on profits, simply in service of the film, of the character.

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Faraaz is  about a terror attack in Bangladesh?how  do you respond to those who want to know, why Bangladesh?

In our research of this dastardly attack we realised that here was a story that had a larger message and something very universal to share. Misguided youth taking up violence in the name of religion or a parent’s love for her child or the unexpected bravery from an unlikely hero are themes that cannot be limited by borders, nationality or language. These stories must be told. They must transcend the limitations of perceived local relevance – particularly when our polarised times need such stories to be told to a larger audience.

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In 2020, your OTT series Scam 1992  proved to  b e game changer. Do you see Scam as a turning point  in your career?

I see Scam 1992 as an enabler. We did not expect its humongous success and to say it did not change things would be fake humility. It gave me back a lot of things I had lost in the years before it released. Including some money. And the courage to tell the stories I desperately wanted to. Also exceptional friends and collaborators like Sameer Nair and his Studio Applause.

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Your films  and your  attitude to cinema has always  been fearless. How  do you  cope with the  threat of growing intolerance in our society  vis a  vis your  convictions as a  filmmaker?

It is not new to me. Remember Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar in 2000? The only difference now is that then I was deeply affected by the intolerance to a point of self destruction. Now I channelise my despair and anger into telling relevant stories and through them taking on those who have made it a business to be intolerant.

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To Attend Siddharth-Kiara’s Destination Wedding, Karan Johar Preponed His Twins’s Birthday  Bash

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Siddharth-Kiara’s

For those  who are  wondering why Karan Johar hosted  the grand birthday party for his  twins Roohi and  Yash who will  turn 6 on 7 February,  six days in  advance  on 1  February  here is  why:  on the day of his twins’ birthday,  Karan  will be in Rajasthan attending the wedding celebrations of his dear friends  Siddharth Malhotra  and Kiara Advani who are  getting married on  February 6.

 Reveals   a friend close  to  Karan,  “Karan was in a dilemma. To him there is  nothing more important than his  children’s happiness.  How could he break their hearts by skipping  the most important day of their  lives? At the same time, how could he  not attend Siddharth and Kiara’s wedding ? They are  very close to him.”

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Karan did the best thing possible to resolve the situation:  he put the dilemma before his children Yash and Juhi who happily  agreed  to  have their party  a few days in advance so their ‘Dada’  could  attend  his friends’ wedding.

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The  Big Independence Day Clash To Be Averted?

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Animal and Sunny Deol’s  long-awaited Gadar 2

Sunny Deol, John Abraham  Ranbir  Kapoor  and the Covid Vaccine are all set to clash at the boxoffice this  Independence Day .

While the  Ranbir Kapoor starrer Animal and Sunny Deol’s  long-awaited Gadar sequel  are  both scheduled  for release  on August  11, John Abraham’s  Tariq  releases three days later on August 15.On the same day  Vivek(The Kashmir Files) also  releases  The Covid Vaccine.

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It looks  like  a crowded weekend, with one too many releases for audiences to  choose from.

Apparently  intense discussions are on among the  producers of the four  big films to see how the clutter can be  resolved.

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A  source close to the  development says, “Gadar 2 is the  right fit for the Independence Day weekend. But the producers of Animal  are in no mood to move  from August 13 . John  who is  a co-producer  on Tariq  and Vivek  Agnihotri with his Covid Vaccine  are also adamant  on coming on   August 15.The  Independence Day weekend is  a long  weekend. So let’s see…”

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