This year I met Javed Akhtar on October 11th, Amitabh Bachchan’s birthday. Also, the day when ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh passed away back in 2011. So, the conversation begins with the biggest actor Indian cinema has ever seen – well known for the ‘angry young man’ image and the biggest name in the ghazal world, Jagjit Singh for whom, Akhtar was in Dubai for a memorial concert titled Hazaaron Khawahishein Aisi by Shekhar Ravjiani.
Did you and Salim saab invent the angry young man in Hindi cinema or was he always there?
The angry young man always existed. Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna or Birju in Mother India. But he was always diluted with romance, comedy, songs etc. All we did was to remove the unnecessary things and gave the character its unadulterated form. Like a strong drink without soda and water (smiles). Zanjeer in 1973 became a landmark in Amitabh Bachchanís career followed by Deewar in 1974 and so on. In Sholay 1975, he played the brooding young man.
When did you meet Jagjit Singh?
We didnít have good relations to start with. While I was writing Silsila, I met the fourth AD to director Yash Chopra ñ a man called Raman Kumar. He was making a film (Saath Saath) and approached me to write its lyrics. He was from Indian Peopleís Theatre Association and his filmís music director Kuldeep Singh recommended that the songs be sung by a young singer named Jagjit Singh. Thatí s when I met him. That is when I wrote songs such as Tum ko Dekha, Pyaar mujhse kiya tumne, Yeh bata de mujhe zindagi etc. During one of the recordings, he didnít turn up and made us wait for 4-5 hours. When confronted, he casually said we will record the song the next day. I felt very sad at that and we didnít speak for years. At times we even looked through each other. It was at an event later when Naresh Goyal of Jet Airways brought us together and we decided to work.
How was the friendship after that?
We did 2 albums for HMV – Soz and then Silsilay and they were well received. Then I got to know the other side of his personality. I saw the softer side, his sense of humour and his warmth. Not even his closest friends knew that he was a huge philanthropist. He would help people silently. He helped me in my movement for copyright law and was the most active member, often flying down to Delhi as and when required. It is sad that he didnít live to see the law implemented. He was totally selfless. He effectively used his fame to add more to the cause.
Do you see his personal tragedy embellish his art?
You can only give what you get. Your intake of anything can turn into the output. In the creative space, sometimes 10 intakes turn into one output. It is like this. If I know a language I can give you thoughts only in that language. Emotions have a language too. Emotions too have grammar and vocabulary. Jagjit jee had a way of conveying that emotion very well.
Anything that cannot be deposited in the bank today is considered useless. Poetry, literature etc come after the wall to wall carpet has been laid out. People set out to “buy culture” because they realise that they have not addressed their soul. There was a time when the middle class bought refrigerators and displayed it in the drawing room not kitchen to show off. Today art has become like that. Life is in fast-forward today. I saw a girl say ‘Dup’ for “Dupatta’. “Patta hi toh bacha hai, bol do”.
In your Ted Talk, you spoke about depth missing in art forms?
The depth is missing in people. And that is reflected in all art forms. Technology has shortened the feeling of longing and patience. Earlier snail mail would take a few days to reach and then the reply would take a week. Today it can be done at a click of a key. So, patience has decreased. Now you donít have time, there is no inclination to understand. Jaldi bolo kya baat hai is what we think. We shorten spellings when we text, only want to understand superficial things because there is no time to go deeper.
The #Metoo movement was overdue and it was meant to happen. It is just a tip of the iceberg. It happens everywhere not just in the film industry. I am sure this will put fear in men’s heart before crossing a line.