Javed Akhtar: The industry had stopped giving me work
Javed Akhtar talks about receiving flak from the fraternity for supporting the Copyright Bill, mediocre scriptwriters, and his upcoming film Namaste England
After working for almost every day of your life (since the 1970s), you seem to have slowed down. Is it a conscious decision?
I didn't opt for retirement. The industry had stopped giving me work for a while. During the fight to pass the Copyright Amendment Bill [which ensured that writers, lyricists, singers, scriptwriters get an equal financial share in their work and not just the producer], I received support from the music fraternity, but was removed from the most popular writer's list [laughs]. Several filmmakers withdrew from me and I was not being offered films. Thankfully, things have changed in the last few months because I believe, producers and music companies have reconciled with the idea that the law has changed, and no one is going to be at the losing end. Composers and lyricists will get a better royalty, something that they truly deserve.
Being a veteran in this industry, did you expect to receive flak from the fraternity?
I had decided to speak up and if I had to pay a price for it, I was fine. It was my choice and I still stand by it. Even if people don't want to work with me in future, I am not going to hold grudges against them. I was guided by conscience and principles. It was great when the government and opposition unanimously passed this bill.
You have spent more than four decades in the industry. How do you look back at your career?
I have seen the highs and the lows. Both are important. Overall, it has been a satisfying journey. My only regret is my lack of discipline. Had I had that I could have achieved a lot more. But I haven't given up. I'm in competition with myself, but when I look at the mediocrity around me, I feel poignant. I am not saying that there are no good lyric writers, but I believe the charm is lost. Apart from a handful lyricists, nobody understands poetry.
Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra in Namaste England
Is that an observation over the remixes we've seen lately?
That is one of the pressing concerns. It is creative vandalism and bankruptcy. I don't understand the need to remix classic songs. Why is there a lack of self-confidence? Lyricists should be confident enough to give hit songs. Why do they feel the need to borrow? Besides that, these songs by Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar are our cultural heritage and must be preserved, rather than adding rap to it. Some things need to be respected the way they are.
Do you feel mediocrity has seeped into script-writing as well?
The script is the core of any successful project, but that concept seems lost. Films these days are made on magnanimous budgets, but only one per cent is spent on the script. You may shoot in foreign locales, add special effects and get the best actors on board, but without a good script, everything falls flat. Unfortunately, scriptwriters are paid peanuts. Everyone seems to be in a rush to announce their release dates. Writers need to be paid well and be given ample time to work on the material. When Pandit Mukhram Sharma [before our time] or we [Salim-Javed] wrote scripts, we commanded a position that compelled producers to pay the price we quoted. I wonder if writers today would be allowed to be that powerful or be given that position. Precisely why, I am not sure if we'll ever have another Salim-Javed. At the same time, it's interesting to see the variety of stories offered today, which was not available back in the day. Things are better in that aspect.
Do you feel the restriction on freedom of expression by some fringe groups force filmmakers to compromise on their work?
We have seen many unconstitutional powers in society take a stand and get away with it often. It is undemocratic and sad that the freedom of speech is lost. It's a law and order problem. I believe it is the responsibility of the government that the dignity of a prestigious body like the Censor Board needs to be preserved. Indian film industry is a huge organisation which generates a lot of revenue and employment, but the government tends to be cynical about our problems. There is a lot of callousness, carelessness, and jealousy involved, which needs to be looked into.
What stops you from writing a script?
Sheer laziness. My songs are doing well and writing them comes easy to me, which also gets me the appreciation and a lot of money [laughs], but I miss writing scripts. I have written a couple of scripts and am waiting to find the right people who would be passionate enough to make it.
It's been a while since your son [Farhan Akhtar] directed a film.
My guess is as good as anybody, but I feel he is finding pleasure in working as an actor or going on stage and performing for now. Direction is a serious job and there have been many times that he has toyed with the idea of getting back to direction, but I don't know what happened of it. He hasn't closed the doors to direction for sure.
Coming up next
Javed Akhtar, who had earlier written songs for Vipul Shah's Namastey London, is also penning the lyrics for the Arjun Kapoor-Parineeti Chopra-starrer Namaste England. "Vipul is an easy-going director and a dear friend. When filmmakers know what they want from a song and scene, it becomes easy to write, that's why I love working with Vipul. I also enjoyed working in tandem with Manan Shah [music composer]. He is young, talented and has a bright future."
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