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Javed Akhtar speaks about his lyrics and scriptwriting

When he writes, India listens. When he pens words, they almost naturally transform into unadulterated poetry. When he blends Hindi with a hint of Urdu, he gives a fine lyricist to the Indian Film industry. In a freewheeling conversation with IndiaFM, Javed saab talks about his recent films as a lyricist Honeymoon Travels... and Namastey London and also tell us about a script he has recently finished but is clueless on what to do with it

How easy or difficult was it for you to pen the lyrics for Honeymoon Travels... keeping in mind this film is a comedy?
Well, it was as easy or as difficult to write lyrics for Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. as any other film, because every film has its own ethos, its own atmosphere, and its own texture- the way the characters feel so on and so forth. So you have to understand the level and the wavelength of the particular film and write the songs accordingly. This is a movie that has a definite character and a definite wavelength. So I tried to match my lyrics to that, and that is what I have tried to do every time.

When Reema gave you the narration for the song Sajanaji Vaari Vaari, what ideas came to your mind for the song?
Honeymoon Travels... is a light hearted, youthful, contemporary film where the characters are real. There is something very unpretentious about it. So this is the quality one had to capture in the lyrics and also in the music. I don't know to what extent we have succeeded. But the film has certain honesty about it and there is a ring of sincerity and this is what we wanted to capture in the songs also. Now there is one completely crazy song that is Sajanaji Vaari Vaari, where everybody goes pretty haywire. But in the rest of the songs you will notice that the language is simple and there is some kind of an unpretentious approach.

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Vishal-Shekhar, the music directors of the film said that you wanted the songs to be very Indian folk, whereas they wanted it to be retro. Your idea finally worked, how did you work on it?
I think it was a good synthesis.

It has worked very well on the screen. How did this idea come to your mind?
The so called 'disco songs' are now becoming a rage. So I thought that if we take a pure folk tune and give it a complete retro treatment, it can bring some interesting results. I think Vishal-Shekhar have done a great job. And I must say that Sunidhi has sung the song very well. She has not sung it totally in her natural voice but she has taken a style and attitude. That has worked in a big way.

How was it working with the musical duo Vishal-Shekhar?
Well, Vishal and Shekhar are exceptionally talented; there is no doubt about it. They are the music directors of the future, just like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. These are the people who have a very good repute and they understand Indian music on one hand, and on the other hand they are familiar with world music and the different schools of music - Latin, American music and so on. So, when you listen to their music carefully, you can see that there is what you call in the music world in India, a great "Tayari" in them. So they are very confident people.

What is special about the album Namastey London? What should the audience look forward to?
You know when Vipul Shah and Himesh Reshammiya came to me and they said they want me to do a film for them, for a moment I was rather apprehensive because Himesh Reshammiya is doing extremely well with a certain brand of music he is identified with. So I wondered how much room I'll get in that kind of music to participate or contribute. But to my relief and as a matter of fact and happiness, Himesh opened with a remark which was very consoling. He said that I have come here not because I want just another film song but because I want the kind of writing you do. You don't have to bother what the music director wants or the Film Company expects or what distributors would want and so on. You just forget about it, and write songs the way you want to write. That was very comforting and it was really a pleasure working with him. He is a person who is tremendously enthusiastic about his work. He is on a high and wants to experiment, he wants to do new things and I think his music is doing extremely well. It is a good combination of writing and hardcore beat at the same time. The music and the tunes are mostly from shastriya sangeet but they are treated in such a way that you won't realize it.

This is the first time you and Himesh have been paired for a project. How did this happen?
Only the producers can tell you that, but because we have come together I think it has brought good results. I was very comfortable working with him.

Tell us something about the mehfil mix, what is it?
Again this is Himesh's brainchild, I'm sure it is his brainchild. He has made three versions of the song. One for the film, another the club version, what you call jhankar beat, and the third version is only live instruments...with very few traditional Indian live instruments and my poetry which I have recited during the interlopes and sometime in the prelude. I think we have done five songs like that.

The song Chakna Chakna is already doing well on the US pop charts...
Oh, it is? I'm very happy to hear that...

So you have recited your own poetry as a prelude to some of the songs. When did the idea of getting behind the mike come to you? Was it your idea or the musician or the director insisted on this one?
It was Himesh's idea. As a matter of fact again I was slightly skeptical about it and cynical whether it would work, because when I was writing the song I had not thought of the poetry. But he insisted and persuaded me to do that. So ultimately I wrote poetry especially for the film songs.

And this is for the first time they have used your voice over...
That is right. As a matter of fact only in one of our music albums Tum Yaad Aaye, they had used my voice. So this is the first film album where my voice is used.

There are seven original tracks and eleven remixes.
This film has some fast beat and club songs by every temperament - club song. But some of them are slower songs and they give ample room for writing something of poetry, giving some kind of poetic expressions. Zindagi, and Main Kahin Rahu, are very good songs.

Which is your favorite song?
All of them are good. It's a good album. I'm quite convinced that it should do extremely well. But perhaps if you force me to choose one song that I like the most - I think it's a tough competition between Dil-e-bekaraar and Teri Yaad Saath Hai.

Are you okay with the remixes?
Actually remixes are not my problem, let me tell you honestly. I mean personally I am not much interested in remixes. So I prefer the original or now since my voice is there, I listen to my poetry. Perhaps remixes are for younger people.

Was Vipul Shah involved in the making of the music?
He is the director. He is the one who has explained what he wants in one particular situation. Vipul Shah is one of those directors who work when they script rather seriously. So every time he was very clear about his situation and what he requires in the song. So if you get a clear brief it becomes easier to write.

Tell us about your future projects as a lyricist.
After Namstey London there's Yashraj's Tara Rum Pum. Meanwhile I think somewhere by July-August we can expect the music of Jodha Akbar. So these are the immediate films.

What about Chamki Chameli?
Yes, Shyam Bengal's film. But the recording is yet to start. Yeah, we have done couple of songs and now we have to do some more.

Are you writing any more scripts after Don?
Yes. Well perhaps it's too early to talk about it, but the gap after Don was a bit too long. So I've decided to do at least one script once in a while. I've finished one script. I am yet to decide what I'm going to do with it.

Word is that you are writing the dialogues for Apoorva Lakhia's Dus Kahaniyaan. Is that true?
No, that is not true. Somebody has contacted me to write a song for one of the episodes of the film, but I don't know what happened about it. But yes, somebody did ask me.

RGV is remaking Sholay. Any idea if you and Salim saab will be credited for this film as well, considering there was a lot of controversy over this?
I've no idea. Now the question is whether Ramesh Sippy's Sholay is getting credit for this, because I've heard that ultimately the thing is in the court - and I don't think one should talk about it. I don't know what they are doing, I have no idea.

Are you happy with Sholay being remade?
I'm amused and surprised that some people had the audacity to do that. So it is rather amusing. But as long as you have the rights, you can go ahead with it. I hope Ram Gopal Varma has the legal rights to remake Sholay. He can do it, but if he doesn't have the rights like the producers are claiming, then that is not right.

You were more popular as a scriptwriter earlier and started off with writing lyrics subsequently. It's the other way round now, as you are a prominent lyricist. Why have you slowed down on writing scripts?
That is right. Maybe there is more gratification here, there is more appreciation and it is a more comfortable job as a matter of fact than writing scripts. Scriptwriting is like a marathon race and lyrics-writing is like running a 100 yards. Both are difficult but this takes lesser time. So somehow I moved in this direction but now I have decided to sail in two boats.

What do you think about the scripts coming out these days?
I think some interesting films are being made and the kind of variety we see today is totally unprecedented. People are going into different directions, they are probing different possibilities and interesting films are being made.

Sometime back there was a Script Writers Conference held in Pune where you were selected as the head of an 11-member committee. Has there been any progress on the committee and do we see better prospects for upcoming writers?
Yes, we have had some meetings and we are still probing different possibilities and what can be done about the writers and about the status and the current situation. We are trying to figure if they are paid properly or not, do they finally get a chance to get there. These are some of the issues that should be looked into.

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