Javed Akhtar still an 'angry young man' at 75

Mumbai: “The anger erupting among the youth is not only to do with the economic setback. In the hatred, bigotry and exclusion, they have smelt the danger of what is coming their way.

The resistance which is growing by the day stems from that,” says Javed Akhtar, of the growing wave of protests against the CAA and the NRC.

The sea outside his Mumbai apartment window seems to mirror the sea of ideas that the septuagenarian poet, lyricist, activist and screenwriter has carried in his head over a nearly five-decade-long career.

Akhtar, who along with Salim Khan, created the cult of the angry young man with iconic films like Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay, insists it was not a conscious intellectualisation of the era's socio-political angst.

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That was also our own lived reality. When located within, it is not possible to think so big. Those were stories we genuinely wanted to tell and they happened at the right time and place.”

Always unabashed in his criticism of rabid extremism, he says he welcomes the film fraternity coming forward to support protesting students.

“As creative people are closer to that demographic and its aspirations, it is natural they'll support.” On other well-known names who have chosen to be quiet, he says: “You should ask them about it.”

But we seem to have got ahead of what we are actually at Javedsaab's home to talk about. This is a very special time for the Akhtar-Azmi families.

“On January 14, the hugely celebrated Kaifi Azmi centenary will draw to a close, with the screening of Baba Azmi’s first directorial effort, Mee Raqsam (I Dance) - a Hindi feature film – shot entirely in Mijwan, Kaifisaab's village in UP's Azamgarh,” he informs.

The two families have planned a host of celebrations in the run-up to the poet-lyricist's ringing in his 75th on January 17.

Two days before, an exhibition of photographs, posters and paintings curated by Pradeep Chandra and SMM Ausaja - The World of Javed Akhtar – will be inaugurated by Zoya and Farhan Akhtar.

He laughs modestly, “I found the name quite pompous,” and adds in his signature tongue-in-cheek style, “The duo had done something similar, celebrating Amitabh Bachchan in the past. It's taken them a while to get to me.”

The occasion will also mark the launch of a specially crafted limited edition Javed Akhtar pen. Like his legendary father-in-law Kaifisaab, the son-in-law is also quite attached to his pens. “I get very sentimentally attached to small everyday objects.

In the past, I've gone back 200km and more, to retrieve an old cigarette lighter costing Rs 50,” he recounts and points out how there is a Montblanc pen from which he has now been inseparable for over five years.

“I get restless without it. It is not because there are no more Montblancs around. Though I've never bought one, most people think they are perfect gifts for me. I've lost count and there are some yet to be unpacked, four-five years on.”

Away in the US, Javedsaab's partner actor-activist Shabana Azmi told this writer: “We lost mummy (Shaukat Azmi) less than two months ago but her spirit envelops us like the air we breathe.

This is how she'd have liked the celebrations,” adding, “After all, it is a milestone. It's been such an amazing journey for a boy who came to Bombay with eight annas in his pocket and a fistful of dreams.

He slept on the pavement, went without food for days but what carried him through was his indomitable will. On his darkest day, he sat under a shelterless sky with sheets of rain piercing his body and nowhere to turn.

Yet, instead of giving in to despair, he told himself, “Main yun hi marne ke liye paida nahi hua tha. Yeh din badlenge aur main kamyab hokar rahoonga!”

She says recalling this sends a shiver down her spine. “I salute his resilience, his fortitude and his intellect. At 75, he is a man tempered by the ups and downs of life - he is wise and compassionate.

And has never lost his ready wit or humour,” and admits it was a privilege to have this respected social commentator, writer and poet as a partner.

“He is my best friend and often says: 'Shabana and I are such good friends, even marriage couldn't destroy our friendship!” and laughs: “Of course, I'm not sharing all the times he has me tearing my hair in exasperation! That's for another day.”

The platinum jubilee will see a big bash with the who's who of the film fraternity in attendance, an evening hosted jointly by Shabana Azmi, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar.

While taking leave, Javedsaab says the country needs to shake off its air of sombre despondency. “The night is at its darkest before dawn. So we must be hopeful.

Life is not one linear progression but a bunch of them. These protests will gather momentum and go on, just like everything else.” We are pinning our hopes on that.