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Language of love burning bright

When a session is called Sholay se Lava tak, you can be sure of a few sparks lighting up the crisp winter sky. And when the speaker in the hot seat is Javed Akhtar, you can also be sure of the sparks raining down on you in a starburst of beautiful Urdu verse.

The last session on Day 1 of KLM 2014, in association with The Telegraph, at Victoria Memorial saw the scriptwriter of Sholay (as part of the legendary Salim-Javed duo) and the composer of the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning poetry compilation Lava, sit in conversation with journalist Pritha Kejriwal.

Though Javed saab comes from a family with seven generations of writers and poets, the rebel in him drew him to films, rather than the “family business”. “I was my family’s bigra hua beta.”

No wonder then that it was his pen, along with friend Salim Khan’s, that gave India the angry young man — Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay, Trishul.... “Many people in India and abroad have analysed the socio-political significance of the appeal of the angry young man of Hindi cinema of that time, but we were just trying to write an interesting script. It clicked because we were not writing about it from the outside. We felt it, so we wrote it.”

What then brought him back to Urdu poetry, his first compilation, Tarkash, coming out in the late 1980s? “Baniya ka beta ghoom phir ke dukaan pe baith hi jata hai,” he quipped. On a more serious note, Akhtar admitted that while he knew he could write in meter since he was 15-16 years old, the knowledge of great Urdu poetry, which he had been exposed to because of his family, intimidated him.

After the death of his father, his rebellion lost its meaning. Also, the allure of the “seductive success of films” waned a bit and he picked up his poetic pen.

Next came the question of the falling standard of Urdu poetry now. Akhtar had a very simple explanation. “Language does not survive on literary value, it survives on the basis of its economic utility.”

The audience had many questions, from homo-eroticism in Urdu poetry (while some Urdu poetry was clearly a man writing for a man, initially even the woman was referred to in male terms, like the word mehboob) to the degeneration of film lyrics today (“These shouldn’t even be called lyrics and I blame not the lyricist or the listener but those in between, who talk of market forces.”). And someone, of course, wanted a script by Salim-Javed, with their sons Salman Khan and Farhan Akhtar in the lead!