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Sometimes Words Win, Sometimes Words Lose So Miserably (The Truth Has Been Proved Again)

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Ali Peter John

Those days I used to enter studios with Mr. Z.D Lari who was my neighbour and an assistant director who worked with well known directors like Amar Kumar who played a big hand in the grooming of a new and handsome actor called Dharmendra and another director, Rajinder Singh Bedi who was a reputed literary figure who was eager to make films and direct them. It was during one of my trips to the Natraj Studio that I met a poet called Jan Nissar Akhtar who was writing the songs of Prem Parbat. I was impressed with his personality and asked Mr. Lari more about him. He told me he was a very good poet and was very difficult to deal with because he refused to make any kind of compromises when it came to his writing. Mr. Lari than told me the story of Jan Nissar Akhtar. He had a son whose name was Javed Akhtar who was also a young poet who had come from Bhopal to make it as a song writer or a writer in films. He told me about how the father and son could not get along because the father had deserted the small family which consisted of just his mother who was also a writer and the young Javed. His mother had died very young and Javed was left alone to make his own living. He lived at the mercy of some of his uncles and aunts but could not live according to their traditional and orthodox ways of life. He tried living with some of his friends and took to all the bad habits like smoking, drinking and gambling at a very young age. He spent most of the money he made in gambling and the help of some friends who loved the stories he told them and the poems he recited to entertain them and to see every film that was released. His love for cinema finally brought him to Bombay where he started his struggle. He knew his father had his own house, but he refused to take any help from him. He finally found shelter in the Mahakali caves in Andheri which was surrounded by the Warli tribes and where he lived at nights after going from office to office looking for work. His frustration led him to drink the local hooch and there were several nights and even days when he starved. Life took a better turn for him when the Nepali “Gorkha (watchman) at the Natraj Studio offered him a place to sleep in a room where the costumes of all the famous actors were preserved. He could sleep there only till six in the morning and then leave on his rounds to find some work. He finally found a job in the story department of Sippy Films where he was paid Rupees hundred and fifty a month. It was here that he met another struggling actor who wanted to be a writer, Salim Khan. The two became the best of friends and decided to form a team of writers and within no time they were the most successful writers in the history of Hindi films and were responsible for finding the talent in a failed actor called Amitabh Bachchan and wrote Zanjeer, a film which made him a superstar.

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I joined Screen in 1974 when Salim- Javed was the ruling team of writers. They had reached a status no other writer had. Javed married the one-time child artist, Honey Irani and they had two children (the boy grew up to be Farhan Akhtar and the girl Zoya Akhtar). Salim who had an affair with the dancing queen Helen when he was the hero of small time films married Salma and carried on his affair with Helen without his wife taking any objection. They had three sons who grew up to be Salman, Sohail and Arbaaz and they adopted a girl who they named Alvira. Life was like one long dream for them.

I met the two writers on a couple of professional meetings but I soon grew very friendly with Javed. He was a regular at the bar of the Sun-n-sand hotel where he met his friends and cronies. They drank till late in the night and there was not a single night when Javed did not pick up a fight with some one or the other. There were many nights when he had to be carried to his car and driven home. I too became a regular at the bar and found our meetings very interesting till Javed was in his elements and was not drunk and had got used to his wild ways after he was drunk. What was very interesting about his drinking was that he forgot all about what he had said or done the previous night the next morning and rang up to find out if he had done anything wrong.

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I remember one particular evening. Javed got drunk and someone said something nasty about his partner Salim and he went wild like a bull in a China workshop. He smashed all the glass crockery in the bar and even in the lawn outside and no one could stop him. He realized what he had done the previous night and went to the hotel the next morning and paid up for all the damages he had caused. The manager said he could have banned anyone who had behaved like that but he just couldnt think of loosing a celebrity customer like Javed Sahab.

Time passed and Salim-Javed was accepted as the emperors of writers but Javed did not seem to be getting along with his wife Honey. He spent several evenings with the poet Kaifi Azmi and shared poetry with him. It was during some of his meeting, that he became very good friend with Kaifis daughter, the famous actress Shabana Azmi and they fell in love and even got married. One evening when I was all set to leave office the phone on my table rang. It was Shabana who I had known for many years who was on the line and she said, Ali, I want you to be the first journalist to know that I have married Jaadu (her pet name for her husband now). I want you to write about our marriage because people believe in what you write. Please do us this favour and we will always be grateful. I went back and changed an item from my column and wrote about their marriage. They were very happy when they saw what I had written.

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The next time I met them was at a party hosted by Deepti Naval where the cream of the industry including a sick Raj Kapoor and his wife, Krishna attended. The party was in full form when suddenly there was an angry exchange of words between two men. It was Javed and the brilliant filmmaker Basu Bhattacharya. Their battle of words almost led to a major fight when Shabana called Javed a junglee and left the party in a huff. Soon after this ugly happening news about which had spread all over the industry, there was one of the biggest shocks the industry woke up to. Salim-Javed had officially spilt and had decided never to work with each other again. Salim went his own way and wrote three films of which only one, Naam could make a mark. Javed wrote films like Mashaal, Prem, Mr. India and Main Azaad Hoon but he discovered the poet I him and started writing lyrics and was one of the most successful song writers of the industry.

I was bewildered by two incidents Javed got me involved in. one evening I received a call from Javed with Shabana sitting next to him. They told me that they had recommended my name to be on the national jury which would decide the awards for that year. I was surprised and also excited. I spent the next seventeen days in Delhi watching films as a member of the prestigious jury. It was only towards the end that I realized why the husband and wife had recommended me. I was on a “mission” to see that they won awards in their respective fields. It became clear when Javed called me one night and said, janaab hum logon ka khayal rakhna. I realized my responsibility and luckily for me Shabana was declared the best actress for her performance in Godmother and Javed the best lyricist for the same film. I was relieved and decided never to be on a jury again.

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Some years later, I left Screen and Javed Akhtar was the chief guest at the farewell function organized by my editor Bhawana Somayya who was very close to the couple. Javed spoke very highly about my contribution to Hindi cinema. A few days later, his secretary, Carol said Javed Sahab wanted to meet me urgently. I hesitated but I went. Javed came straight to the point. He said he wanted the list of the members who formed the jury for the Screen awards. I looked at him baffled and amused and reminded him that I was no longer with Screen and asked him how he could forget that he was the chief guest at the “biryani party” organized to send me of and he said, hume maloom hai, janaab, lekin usse kya hota hai? Aap toa jaadugar hai, aap kuch bhi kar sakte hai, bas ek aur kamaal ka jaadu kardo phir dekho hum tumhare liye kya karte hai. The clever man was teasing me or testing me. I decided to take it as a challenge and got him the entire list the next day. He was delirious and said, janaab, ab boliye aapko kya chhahiye? I said I would ask for what I wanted at the right time. He did not come on the line for the next six months. I decided never to have anything to do with him but the publishers of the Marathi translation of my autobiography wanted him to release it. I too decided to become like him. I pretended to forget all that had happened and made the request made to me by the publishers. He smiled and said, janaab, aap ke liye itna nahi karenge toh jeekar faaida hi kya, main aada ghante pehle hi pahunch jaaoonga. I had my doubts but kept quiet. Twenty minutes before the function could begun his secretary who had been trained in the painful(to him) art of lying called me and said, “Javed Sahab” ko bahut tez bukhaar hai aur doctor ne unhe bahar jaane se manaa kardiya hai. I was shaking with anger and soon I came to know that he was not down with fever but was in the pleasant company of his favourite singer, Alka Yagnik. I took a difficult decision and called up the man who the industry calls an eccentric man, Nana Patekar and told him about my problem. He asked me not to worry, he would be there in thirty minutes and he was there with his friend and my very old friend Deepti Naval and made my function much more memorable because a majority of the audience was all Maharashtrains.

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Janaab Javed Akhtar Sahab is now a distinguished Member of the Rajya Sabha. This has been his ultimate goal and he has been trying his best to achieve it and I know the methods he has been using for the last four years to be a member of the house of elders but I will leave those stories for another time. He has now made some tall promises to raise issues of the common man and the film industry in the House. Some of his predecessors have tried their best and have come back without their presence being felt. I would like to see this salesman of promises and dreams trying to do what he has promised to do. I have very little hope or faith but I can still give the man who was once a struggler living in a caves a chance to prove that he is a man who can stand by what he says at least now when he has fulfilled almost all his dreams. Janaab, aap toh Jaadu hai, aap toh shabdo se duniya ko badal sakte hai, ek baar zara apna jaadu chlaaiye phir dekhiye hum aapke liye kya kya karte hai.


He was born in Bhopal, a place from where some of the best poets and writers come from. He lived the life of a gypsy and a faqir when his father left the family. He kept looking for a shelter all the time because he did not need a home since he spent most of his time with friends who loved his company. He was an expert in speaking out dialogue (pronounced as die-lock by the people of Bhopal). He was a very good story teller and a complete entertainer which helped him in earning his breakfast, lunch and dinner most of the time. He remembers how much Hindi films had made an impact on the every day life of the people, their way of life, the way they dressed and even the way the boys and girls fell in love.

He never forgets the past which sometimes helps him in his work and sometimes even disturbs him and sends him into brief spells of depression.

He did not believe in God, he did not follow any of the teachings of the Koran. He was considered a kaafir (a non believer) which was a sin according Muslim religious law but he did not care. If there was an almighty God who knew all about the world and how people were suffering he would have done something to help people, but how do you expect me to believe in a God who keeps sleeping while injustice and inhumanity ruled the world. I firmly believed that heaven and hell are here on earth, in this life and we dont have to go looking for places like heaven or hell when we know or should know that such places are only the creation of poets and painters with a wild imagination.

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He remembers every face of every one who helped him in the initial stages. He remembers a friend called Jagdish who kept   inspiring him when they lived in that cave and how Jagdish who had come to make it as an actor died very young of excessive drinking. He remembers the raddiwala who let him sit in his shop and lent him books to read and he remembers the Gorkha” at Natraj Studios who gave him permission to spend the night in the godown of the studio.

He doesnt forget all those directors and producers who read his poems and tore them to pieces and asked him to try working in some other field.

He started as an assistant director with S.M Sagar who was also the secretary of actor Ashok Kumar. He was also an assistant to Brij, who made Victoria 203 and many other successful films, a very loveable man who shocked the world when he killed his entire family and himself.

He had a major kind of stage fright and used to shake and tremble all over when he went on stage once, but all that was gone after he married Shabana who made him so confident that he even did one -man poetry recitals all over the world. He even did a whole play with Shabana called Kaifi Aur Main based on a book written by Shauqat Kaifi, Shabanas mother. The highlight of the play is a long poem called Woh ek ajeeb aadmi tha describing the life, work and mission of his father –in- law Kaifi Azmi.

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It takes him a lot of pain and even embarrassment when signing autographs. His fingers shake beyond control. It is one thing he shares with the English poet and writer Dom Moraees. The after effects of heavy drinking, it is called and no doctors have been able to find a cure for it. He has two assistants who help him in writing what he dictates.

He had some major misunderstandings with his first wife Honey. They had a love marriage which developed major cracks because of their different life styles. He divorced her but gave her his entire bungalow at Band Stand near the actress, Rekhas bungalow and all the money he had earned till then.

His book of poems, Tarkash which describes his early days is a best seller and has been translated into several major languages of the world.

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He takes great pride in the achievements of his children, Farhan and Zoya, but he never interferes in their creative independence but is always wiling to help whenever they feel his need.

He had always had a secret ambition to be a director. He still has the script he wants to direct but has not found the time for it.

He is one of the most wanted speakers during conferences, seminars and discussions on various platforms and is in great demand for chat shows on television.

He has a very good command over music which helps him in a big way as a song writer who can write under any circumstances and even if he is given the tune in advance.

He has succeeded in taking Urdu poetry to different parts of the world.

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He has recently played a very vital role in making it a law passed by Parliament to see that writers and poets got their share of the money made by a film. He also joined hands with his one-time partner Salim to take the sons of Prakash Mehra who were producing the remake of Zanjeer they had written in 1973. They had an out of court settlement which got them a huge amount of money. Javeds victory in getting benefits for poets and writers has not been taken in the right spirit and most of them have even stopped giving him work in films.

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