Talking Films

Some excerpts from the book: Chosen by Javed Akhtar

" Conversations have three levels : people, incidents and ideas. The lowest form of conversation is about people. When we go up one rung we reach incidents which have a slightly larger spectrum than talking about people. But the conversation which really matters is when we talk about ideas, because they are universal and live beyond time and space."

" I believe words are like people. You scrutinise them carefully. You're sitting here, the door opens, a person enters. The first thing you notice is the appearance of the person, then you're introduced. You learn he's an engineer or a chartered accountant. He sits down and you start talking. Soon you find common links. He's an engineer so he belongs to a certain class and he's from such and such a city. Oh, so he knows your cousin's friend and so on. You develop a kind of association with him and you try to slot him. In the same way, take a word that you're not too familiar with, the first thing that touches you is the sound of the word - its physical appearance. Then comes its occupation, its meaning. The dictionary provides its occupation, this word conveys this meaning. That's its job. But that's not the only thing. The word also has other associations. You start thinking , where did you meet this word before, what kind of company does it keep? Where is it from? What kind of moral values does it represent? A good writer is supposed to be aware of three things before using a word : the physical appearance, the occupation and the associations the word evokes."

" If you admire somebody from a distance, you make an image of him or her and you fall in love with that image and soon you are no longer in love with that person, you are in love with the image you've created. And that image is the extension of your own fantasies, so that image is finally you. It's a kind of self-love. You forget that person and get very upset if that person doesn't match up to your fantasy. Bhai, its not right. I think if you're grown up, mature, objective, you have to understand that people are not your fantasy. People are people."

" I genuinely believe that in two hundred years from now, this period will be considered the strangest time in human history. In the days when people and the clergy believed that the sun moved round the earth, they were ignorant but not crazy. They really believed it. But a man who might work in NASA or walk on the moon and then go to church on a Sunday is schizophrenic. For an educated person living in the twentieth century, faith and scientific reality are contradictory."

" Life is strange. Sometimes if you look back, you feel like editing your life, re-writing it, you change scene 12, but the story is so well-knit, the moment you change scene 12 which is less pleasant, you realise that scene 32 which is the highlight of the story will have to vanish. It is not possible to retain scene 32 because it has some connection with scene 12. I understand that this present would not have been possible without that past. Life would have been something else, I don't know what. Since I like this life, I shouldn't complain. Nobody grows up without being dented, scratched or hurt. I think it isn't possible."

" You are at a position from where no one, but no one, has seen this world before. And that's true of me too, or of anyone else. You are standing at a place - I am standing at a place - which did not exist before. So I look at things from a perspective which is totally new, and it would be wrong if I didn't say or observe something new. I should be able to see something that nobody else has seen. Logic dictates it. If I'm not seeing it, it means I'm not seeing things from my point of view."

" There are trillions of stars and galaxies in this large universe. To believe that life exists only on this planet and no where else is to believe that life is a miracle and I don't believe in miracles. It does not mean that I believe in cigar-shaped UFOs that transport little green men either. I don't think the vast distances involved will ever allow us any physical contact with other civilizations in the universe, but some day we may succeed in making some kind of radio contact. I think for the past thirty or forty years, scientists and astronomers have been working in that direction. I'd give anything to see the day when they'll ultimately succeed."

" I write dialogue in Urdu, but the action and descriptions are in English. Then an assistant transcribes the Urdu dialogue into Devnagari because most people read Hindi. But I write in Urdu. Not only me, I think most of the writers working in this so-called Hindi cinema write in Urdu: Gulzar, or Rajinder Singh Bedi or Inder Raj Anand or Rahi Masoom Raza or Vahajat Mirza, who wrote dialogue for films like Mughal-e-Azam and Gunga Jumna and Mother India. So most dialogue-writers and most song-writers are from the Urdu discipline, even today."

" There is some grave in Lahore that's supposed to be Anarkali's. There may have been some courtesan or singer who existed during Akbar's time by the name of Anarkali. That's about all. The idea of Jehangir falling in love with her and creating a rift between father and son is a story that was created by an Urdu playwright called Imtiaz Ali Taj. On the question of language: in Akbar's time, Urdu wasn't developed at all and the lingua franca was Persian. To the people of the time, Persian was what English is to us. So all the rulers, including the Marathas, used Persian as their court language. Today, if somebody doesn't know English he will be considered uneducated. Akbar did not know Persian and that is why historians considered him uneducated. Akbar was born in Sind and brought up in northern India. So he most probably spoke Hariyanvi and Bhojpuri. Now if you make a movie like Mughal-e-Azam with Akbar the Great speaking Hariyanvi and Bhojpuri, it will destroy so many myths. I am afraid our friends from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad won't be able to call Akbar a foreigner as they do today."

" When I'm working, as I sometimes do, in a hotel room and writing a tragic scene, I get tears in my eyes. When I'm writing a lighter scene, I smile or laugh. When this scene goes to the director, he gives it to an actor, then the actor will perform it, the camera will film it, an editor will edit it, then it will be sent to different cities like Ratlam, Sanghli and Jabalpur. And in Jabalpur, a man who has never met me, and will never meet me, will buy a ticket and see the film. If I had cried in that hotel room while writing a scene, it will touch him. And if I hadn't, it won't. Although I am not directly communicating the scene to him, yet my insincerity or sincerity gets conveyed in spite of all the different interpreters. You just can't fool people. I don't know how it happens but it happens - in poetry, in short-story writing, in novel-writing or even when writing a letter."

" A good product finds its own market, it creates a market. You have to decide whether you want to make a thing for the market, or you want to make a market for the thing. There is no guarantee that if you make a film this way or that, it will be a success. And since there are no gurantees, make the film the way you'd like to make it. So at least there will be one person who likes the film - that's you!"

" I believe its a matter of time before women take over the world. For thousands of years, women have been confined to a very small area of life. When you have a small canvas to work with, you develop an eye for detail. The world is changing and technology has made all the physical advantages of man over woman obsolete, and today what is required in the age of computers is precisely an eye for detail. I am afraid that the woman is the future and the man is becoming obsolete."

" I genuinely believe that to a great extent communalism too is based on personal unhappiness. Because people are personally unhappy and bitter. If they faced their own lot, they'd have to do something about it: instead they join others and hate some other community. And their hatred gets released. They feel safer in larger groups, and feel it's a way of cleansing themselves of their own traumas and bitterness."

" The meaning of words is important but so is their phonetic effect. Utimately the song is being written to be sung. So it should sound extremely good. The words should have musicality. If you're interested in music, it comes to you naturally. You realise this particular word isn't sounding right for this tune; it sounds like speech, it isn't musical enough, it isn't blending with the notes. What I'm going to say might sound very strange, but every sound has a certain visual effect. If you take ' j ' : now ' ja ' has a sparkle that's very white. While the sound of ' cha ' also has a sparkle, it's somehow yellow or golden. ' Ta ' sounds like throwing a ball on a solid floor. But if you throw the ball on wet ground, then you'll get the sound ' tha '. If you hit the ball against a hollow wooden wall, you'll hear a 'dha '. Sounds create different images in your mind. Like ' dha ' is a sticky sound, ' gha ' is a dense sound, ' ga ' is clean."

" I think Sahir was a very good poet and took film song-writing very seriously. He wrote on his own terms and conditions. He was the first person who brought the film song closer to the poem. Take Vo Subah Kabhi To Ayegi (Will the new dawn ever break ?). Or the songs in Pyaasa, most of these are like poems. Sahir has written lyrics too, but he made his mark because of the poems he wrote for films."

" Shailendra was a master of saying something very emotional and deep in very ordinary and simple words."

" For over three hundred years, a lot of work has been done in Urdu by writers and poets on phonetics. They have rejected words that aren't pleasant to hear and they have moulded the language and the vocabulary to make Urdu a very sophisticated language."

" I'm not a person who is afraid of outside influences - Western influences. Nor do I believe that MTV or Channel V will destroy us. Nonsense! Nothing of the kind will happen. But we had developed a unique style of picturising songs. It was unbelievably good. Directors like Guru Dutt, Vijay Anand or Raj Khosla had a superb style of picturising songs. And I am really very disappointed and upset to see that we are not carrying forward that tradition. In Indian theatre, songs were part of the drama and were given the same weight as a scene. So Indian cinema furthered this traditional convention by using music and drama. Now we're aping MTV and Channel V, and the songs in today's films cease to have a real function within the drama. The song has become a kind of a perk that's offered with the film."

" Someone has done some research and discovered that of all the poetry quoted in the Lok Sabha in the past fifty years, ninety-seven per cent is Urdu poetry."

" If I live, what will I do? I don't know whether I'll continue song-writing or start working on something else. Who knows? Energy is the thing I bother about. And if I have the energy, I'll be able to do things. All right, I am writing songs which are appreciated. I've written some films which are remembered; but there's a lot more to do. I joined the film industry to become a director. Will I ever direct a film? I could get the backing of a producer quite easily if I wanted. But it's the fear of getting involved in something knowing it will need a lot of energy. I suppose the answer to this last question would be that some day I would like to direct a film. And if I make a good film it will give me satisfaction, because that's what brought me to films in the first place: the desire to direct."





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