Why Javed Akhtar won’t be writing an autobiography
Author Namrata Kohli asks him why he did not write a straight-out autobiography when for a prolific author like him, it would have been a natural choice.
It is not a Javed Akhtar event if it does not start with a wisecrack. At a recent discussion about his new book, Talking Life, in Delhi, he started the evening with a joke about the deep-seated sofas at the event that reminded him of his early days of asking for jobs in Bollywood in the offices of big-studio bosses. Talking Life is the third part of the trilogy that explores Akhtar’s life. The first two books, Talking Films (1999) and Talking Songs (2005), were about his contributions to the Hindi film industry – notably for dialogues like “Mere paas ma hai!” (Deewar) and lyrics like Chanda Re Chanda Re (Minsara Kanavu/ Sapnay). The evening begins with author Nasreen Munni Kabir’s conversation with Akhtar, with the poet talking of the highs and the lows of his journey–he says he does not give “much importance” to either – that shaped him as a man who has known success.
Author Namrata Kohli asks him why he did not write a straight-out autobiography when for a prolific author like him, it would have been a natural choice. That was “never on the cards,” says Akhtar. He says that he was brought up by distant relatives after his mother’s death when he was eight. “If I were to be honest about my feelings while writing an autobiography, I would have to express some sentiments and feelings that would hurt many. I would also have to include romantic encounters. That would be a sort of a kiss-and-tell. It would be disrespectful,” he states, with a laugh.
It is clear from the passages he reads that his mother Safia’s death had changed Akhtar’s trajectory in life. His father’s distance from him and his younger brother, the pain of living away from his siblings, and having to find his own footing in the city of Bombay as a young man, is not a side of him that many would know. Did this find its way into Deewar, the famous “Mere paas ma hai” dialogue perhaps? To dwell on the past is not his way. “If all that misfortune has brought me to this moment – my good fortune – then I won’t mourn over it. Let us not try to edit our lives,” he says.
The glorification of the ‘ma’ figure in Indian society also is “slightly problematic”, says the poet. It creates doubt in women about which women are “adarniya” (respectable) and which are not. The glorification of the mother ultimately becomes a whip in the man’s hand, says Akhtar. “Zaroorat se zyada ma ko inverted quotes mein daalna is a problem. Because love without respect is a fraud. Respect without empowerment is a fraud,” he states.
The evening also sees the poet talk of his role in being a major driving force behind the Copyright Amendment Bill (2012), which gives artists and composers the lifetime right to the royalties earned by music labels and production companies.
“The law had a loophole prior to the amendment. They (the production companies) exploited this loophole and all artists were being deprived of a huge amount of royalty. And it was impossible for one person to change the course of their functioning. They would say that if you don’t sign these terms (of relinquishing royalty rights), they would not work with the artist,” he recounts. “I am really thankful to both the Opposition and the government in power at the time, for joining hands to pass the Bill.”
What does he feel about the content of Hindi cinema? Akhtar says every period of Bollywood is a reflection of the society of that time. “A Nehruvian hero, who waits for the authorities to make things right for him, would not work in the post-Emergency era, where the ‘angry, young man’ or the vigilante hero would take matters into his own hands, and not wait for higher-ups. Similarly, the visual content today reflects how society is today,” he says. The evening ends with an expected request. A poem. And Akhtar is in his element.