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Book lovers, keep off the grass

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Javed Sahab’s incredible journey as a story writer, poet and lyricist is celebrated in this coffee table book compiled by Arvind Mandloi.

Jadunama is about the life and times of Javed Akhtar, but it is also an interesting reveal about an era that gave us unforgettable hits such as Deewar, Sholay, Saath Saath, Silsila and Trishul. An era that saw the rise of Amitabh Bachchan as the angry young man and immortal dialogues like “Mere paas maa hain” and “Main aur meri tanhai”. An entire generation that grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s grew up quoting Javed Sahab. While this observation gives my age away, this in no way limits him to just that era, for we can see Javed’s work in today’s hits as well. Karan Johar is quoted in the book as saying that he cannot imagine making a movie without him.

Era that saw the rise of Amitabh Bachchan.

Javed Sahab’s incredible journey as a story writer, poet and lyricist is celebrated in this coffee table book compiled by Arvind Mandloi, who has spent four years on this labour of love. In the book are interviews with Javed himself, but also with all those who have interacted with him. From Shabana Azmi to his ex-wife, Honey Irani and their children Farhan and Zoya. There are interviews with Salim Khan (who was a vital part of the Salim-Javed hyphen that dominated Indian cinema in the 70s and 80s), with Amitabh Bachchan, Yash Chopra, Gulzar, Ramesh Sippy, Subhash Ghai, Karan Johar, Farah Khan and many others. There are also extracts from Javed’s speeches in Parliament for he is also the poet-activist. Given the flair of his delivery, the rhythm of his speech and just the entire “tehzeeb” that he wraps around his words—one wonders why he didn’t come on the big screen himself, for he certainly knows how to captivate an audience. You may not agree with him, for let us not forget this is the era of the Narendra Modi government and Javed Akhtar’s politics lean more to the left than right; but you cannot not listen when he is speaking. Gulzar sums it best when he says: “Everything about Javed Sahab’s personality, like his nickname, Jadu, is magical.”

Unforgettable hit Sholay

It is to Mandloi’s credit that this book is able to encapsulate all that. The English version of the book is translated by Rakhshanda Jalil and makes for a delicious coffee table read. What I liked best are the anecdotes behind each movie that are told through interviews and essays. Such as when the blockbuster Sholay completed 40 years, BBC asked viewers to list their favourite dialogue. The winner was when Amitabh asked Hema Malini, “Tumhaara naam kya hai, Basanti? (Basanti, what is your name?)”
Javed’s secret is that he somehow manages to get that right phrase, tone and tenor into his dialogues. Arvind Mandloi rightly points out that the simple language used by Javed’s characters is now part of popular idiom such as the phrase, “ye lambi race ka ghora hai (this is horse to bet on for the long term)” when you want to praise someone. As Javed says, “I have read a lot of good fiction both in Urdu and English. When you read good writers your vocabulary increases… For instance, if you have a character like Gabbar, how will he speak? I want to speak about the character of Gabbar here because I feel we got a new language thanks to Gabbar.” As an aside the book also reveals that both Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar wanted to try out the character of Gabbar. Ramesh Sippy also talks about the “individual” contribution of Javed Akhtar in dialogue writing, adding that while it is unfair to separate the contributions of Salim-Javed, “the dialogue writing was certainly done by Javed Sahab.”
Another interesting nugget is about how the lyrics of Ek ladki ko dekha (for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film) were crafted. It was Javed’s suggestion that there should be a song where the boy sees the girl for the first time and Vinod Chopra immediately took him up on it. But Javed reveals that it took him two days to write this (usually it takes him about 30 minutes to write a song) because he didn’t want to use “certain” similes such as “jaise chhalka ho jaam” (like brimming goblets). He explains, “I didn’t want any simile that indicated lust or any sin. I wanted to maintain a certain purity.” The song has 21 similes and has since become a very hummable expression of love at first sight.
Interestingly, both Farah Khan and Shabana Azmi have pointed out that the female characters in Javed’s films are always very strong. “Javed Uncle looks at women as being equal to anyone who has an independent view” writes Farah. During an interview for NewsX when I asked him about this, he laughed and said, “Yes, there are no dumb blondes in my stories”.
Javed Akhtar also has a strong view on the kind of villains he portrays. As he says, “When you take your children to the zoo the first thing they do is run to the cage that houses the tiger. The way a tiger attracts you, so does the villain. Be it Teja from Zanjeer, Gabbar in Sholay, Shakaal in Shaan or Mogambo in Mr India, they all have their distinct style. They are not crude, lewd types and none of them have tried to molest a woman.” He goes on to cite the example of Shakaal in the film Shaan, where the villain tells Rakhi, “Tum paneer ka eik tukda ho aur tumhaara pati tumhaaare peechhe eik choohe ki tarah daudta hua jaal mein aayega (you are the bait to trap your husband).” In the film Shakaal the villain also tells Rakhi that he is not going to indulge in any useless activities like raping her, and this Javed feels give some dignity to the villain which is what people remember, unlike the characters essayed by Prem Chopra, Jeevan or Ranjeet.
Javed sums it best when he writes, “No matter how religious you are, you at best spend 15 minutes of the 24 hours in a day on your religion; the rest of the time you spend with your language. I will go so far as to say that the importance people give to religion is wrong and those who do not give importance to language are being unfair.”

To quote Pandit Jasraj, it would not be an exaggeration to call Javed Akhtar today’s Ghalib.

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