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 Bollywood's magnetic script writer, lyricist and poet - the voice behind Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) - Javed Akhtar was in Michigan during thanksgiving weekend.

    Anu Gopalakrishnan provides some excerpts from her chat with Javed Akhtar that ranged from secular issues to Bollywood and his celebrity family members.

Q: From a script writer to poetry to a lyricist, your multi dimensional personality has been an inspiration to all literature lovers, tell us about this journey and your visit to Michigan?

JA: Gwalior is my birthplace though I've never lived there. I grew up in Lucknow and Aligarh and spent four years in Bhopal when I was in college. After that I came to Mumbai. And as you know rest is history. The purpose behind my visit to Michigan is to share my ideas and thoughts with my friends who are all part of the Aligarh Muslim University. I was invited by them and I am so happy to meet with them.

Q: With a strong sense for literature, most people end up being novelists and poets how did Bollywood happen?

JA: That was a long journey. I came to Bombay in 1964 and after a period of trials and tribulations.  I got a break in 1969. It was a struggle where life seemed like a tunnel.

Q: Your strong interest in politics and literature is reflected in your writings and you have used this influence to fight fundamentalism. Any comments on this?

JA: Religion and politics should not be mixed. Fundamentalists, in other words extremist groups think themselves to be the sole voices of the community. I realized with a few others that it was very essential for secular Muslims to get organized and have a forum that would counter those attacks. MSD was formed two years back on Gandhi Jayanthi day.

Q: How was the response to your group - Muslims for Secular Democracy (MSD) forum? Your liberal political ideas and your healthy approach to women's causes may land you in trouble?

JA (laughs!): The response from the mainstream community has been exceptional. We have been talking to the common man and enlightening and informing them about the damages caused to the nation and as a community. I would like to emphasize on education. When truth is spoken, there will always be trouble in some form or the other. I am in a state where I have the privilege to stand in front of a global community and address such issues. People lack the courage to voice their feelings fearing the fundamentalists. All I am talking about is reason, tolerance, moderation, support for women's causes.

Q: You think an educated mind would be able to decide wisely on which forum to choose?

JA: It all depends on real perception. We have two forces pitted against each other. One is the democratic concept that says all people irrespective of caste. Religion, creed, color should not be discriminated/ All should have the same dignity and self-respect. Then there is the other which categorizes people according to religion. Freedom is not granted because a particular religion is minority. As an educated individual, I think one should uphold secularism with real priorities.

Q: Akhtar saab, so much has been written about your open outlook towards religion and politics, what inspires you to write such quality poetry, lyrics or scripts?

JA: All of us go through a collage of emotions. There are so many aspects in a person. We have varied stages of life which inspires us in one way or the other. Everything about life inspires me. Its not about the genre of work, but the quality you perceive. For me, the excitement about life, about work, that passion to experience makes me churn out prose and poetry.

Q: Writing to many is a hobby, to you - its your profession. What do you love doing other than writing?

JA: Reading, traveling and meeting people. Most of my experiences and interest towards life comes through meeting people from various backgrounds. This keeps me going.

Q: Your family members are all celebrities in their own right? How do you manage to spend time with each other?

JA: Yes! Shabana, Farhan and Zoya are all busy people. We respect each other so much that we give enough space and freedom to each other. This allows us to cultivate our creative skills. Though they have that celebrity status stamped on them, they are all easy going, extremely normal household names where success rests very lightly on their shoulders. I am thankful to god for having given me such extremely talented and good individuals as my family.

Q:After Tarkash- there has never been any poetic releases? Can we expect something in the future?

JA: Most definitely. My poetry collection will be released soon- probably less than a year.I started writing urdu poetry in 1980. Tarkash was released in 1995 as my first Urdu collection. The poetry collection was translated in English ("Quiver"), Kannada, Gujarati and Bengali as well.

His first collection of nazms and ghazals, Tarkash, had a very successful release in 1995 and is in its seventh edition in Hindi and fourth edition in Urdu. It has received rave reviews both as a book and as India's first audio book, having sold more than a hundred thousand copies. On the other hand, his Ghazal albums like Sangam, for example, in collaboration with the internationally acclaimed singer-composer, late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, also had record sales.

Akhtar is also known for his celebrated partnership with Salim Khan, with whom he wrote some of the biggest hits in Indian cinema during the 70s and 80s, which included story, screenplay and dialogue for films like Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay, Haathi Mere Saathi, Seeta Aur Geeta, Don and Trishul.

Q: How do you foresee the future of Indian film music. With English words being dominant in most Hindi lyrics today- there is remix, rap, techno all over us?

JA: But the worst is behind us! Indian film and Indian film music has come a long way. People are moving towards better cinema. I am optimistic. People have a choice to accept or reject the movie based on their taste. With regard to language. It changes in time. If you see, most Hindi movies have Urdu dialogues. The same way with words. The English word "bore" is no longer an English word. Its mixed within sentences and the same applies with 'mood'. Mera 'mood' nahi hain-again, mood is seen more in a Hindi angle. There are always new words and new language that gains precedence. That does not mean that we are heading towards destruction.
Son of the well-known Urdu poet and film lyricist, Jan Nissar Akhtar and Safia Akhtar, teacher and writer, Javed Akhtar belongs to a lineage that can be traced back to seven generations of writers. The highly respected Urdu poet, Majaz, was his mother's brother and the work of Muzter Khairabadi, his grandfather, is looked upon as a milestone in Urdu poetry.

Both Jan Nissar Akhtar & Safia Akhtar were professors at Hamidia College, Bhopal. Javed Akhtar did his schooling at the Cambridge School in Bhopal, Calvin Talukadar College in Lucknow, Mintoo Circle at Aligarh, and graduated from Saifiya College, Bhopal in 1964.

Javed Akhtar was in Michigan on Sunday to participate in the International Mushaira with his friends from Aligarh Muslim University.


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