‘You can’t write poetry with dishonesty’: Javed Akhtar

Acclaimed writer and poet  Javed Akhtar, who was in the city for the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, speaks about going back to scriptwriting after 17 years.
Screenwriter, lyricist and poet, Javed Akhtar. (Photo | Nagaraja Gadekal, EPS)
Screenwriter, lyricist and poet, Javed Akhtar. (Photo | Nagaraja Gadekal, EPS)

BENGALURU:   In a free society, you should be allowed to offend people to some extent,” remarked notable screenwriter, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar to the audience at the Bengaluru  Poetry Festival on Sunday. Akhtar engaged in a session with Delhi-based writer Humra Quraishi, where they discussed Akhtar’s early influences and Jadunama (the book on him), among other things. 

Akhtar has been working on a couple of scripts, and his return to scriptwriting is huge as he is one of the most celebrated screenwriters of Hindi cinema, especially his notable partnership with Salim Khan. But Indian cinema wears a new robe now, having gone through multiple changes. So, how did he brave this challenge? 

“Fortunately, I have changed with the times as well,” quips Akhtar. “The problem comes when cinema is changing, and you are not. Or when life is changing but you are not. In those cases, you get left behind. If you are evolving with time, then you are contemporary at any time,” he shares. Akhtar last worked on Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006), which he co-wrote with his son, director-actor Farhan Akhtar. Incidentally, he also wrote the script for the original Don (1978) as part of his iconic partnership with Khan. 

Akhtar also mentioned in his session that ‘being a dialogue writer or lyric writer also means being a latent actor’. He elaborates, “When you’re writing a play, for example, you can’t do justice to it if your mind is not feeling the same emotions. You need to put yourself in the point of view of your characters. You are playing various roles when writing the story.” 

Jadunama, the book on Akhtar’s life gets its name from Jadoo (magic), which was originally the poet extraordinaire’s name until his family changed it to Javed. He believes that coming from a family of writers and poets, a career in the written arts was a natural choice. “All my teachers actually thought I would make a good lawyer. But to pursue a career in writing is what felt natural to me,” says the 
78-year-old.

(Photo | Nagaraja Gadekal, EPS)
(Photo | Nagaraja Gadekal, EPS)

Akhtar believes ‘you can’t write poetry with dishonesty’. In the current times, one can make a case that owing to the political climate, expressing one’s honest feelings could land one in deep trouble. So, how does a writer or a poet navigate through these touchy times? “I get trolled often. Thrice in my life, the Mumbai police has given me protection.

This is all part of the game. I get hate mail, but I have developed skin thick enough for these things to not bother me. One thing I would say is that both Muslims and Hindus troll me. I like that. I am okay as long as both the groups are trolling me. The day it becomes only one of them is when I will get worried,” he says with a laugh.

While passing, Akhtar shares his long love affair with Bengaluru. 

“I have visited this city quite often. But some of my fondest memories of this city were when we were making Sholay (1975),” he concludes.

Acclaimed writer and poet Javed Akhtar, who was in the city for the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, speaks about going back to scriptwriting after 17 years, his life as a writer and fighting the battle between honest expression and hate online  

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