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Thursday, May 19, 2022

‘Creating the angry young man was not a conscious decision’

I don't know if I will experience that again,the sound of 50,000 people gasping. He was like Caesar.

Written by Shekhar Gupta | New Delhi |
May 26, 2013 3:14:26 am

My guest for this special two-part edition is one of India’s greatest storytellers and poets. Javed Akhtarsaab,welcome to Walk the Talk. You are a superstar in your own right. Superstar spouse. Superstar parents. Superstar son. How do you handle the fame?

This has been the condition right from my childhood. Even when I came to the film industry,I was Jan Nisar Akhtar’s son. After a lot of struggle,I became a successful writer. Before that,Salimsaab was part of my name; then I got married to Shabana (Azmi). Then came Zoya and Farhan. Now,everybody says…

‘…are you Farhan Akhtar’s father?’

Oh yes,girls come running and I feel nice. But then they say,‘Hello uncle,where is Farhan?’

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We ran away from college to watch Yaadon Ki Baaraat,Seeta Aur Geeta.

As a team,Salimsaab and I started in 1970. Our first film was Andaaz with Shammiji and Rajesh Khanna. Then came Haathi Mere Saathi,Seeta Aur Geeta,Zanjeer; then in 1975,Deewar and Sholay. I think,we wrote some 13 films in a row which were major hits.

You were the only story-writers who had your pictures on the hoardings.

Yes,and sometimes the credit was bigger than the title of the film.

How did you and Salimsaab come together?

Maybe,it happened for the first time in India,but if you see the credits of any Hollywood movie,even from the ’40s or ’50s,you will see they are with more than one writer. Screenplay,perhaps,needs more than one writer.

But how did you two come together?

You know,I had come to the film industry with the ambition that I would become a director…

And you had a rough time like everybody?

Oh yes. There are actually two times which are difficult for a person in the film industry. Ek tere aane se pehle,ek tere jaane ke baad (Once before you arrive,once after you have left).

Please explain.

When you are in the limelight,you are fine. Before and after the success are bad times. Sometimes,people boast of their success and sometimes,they become arrogant about their failures. The fact is,for almost five years,I saw all possible problems. For many years,I lived without an address. In the afternoon,I wouldn’t know where I would sleep that night.

And where would you sleep in the night?

I spent almost two-and-a-half years in a studio compound. But in 1967,I was working with SM Sagar,the producer and director of a stunt film called Sarhadi Lootera. The leading man was Sheikh Mukhtar,the romantic lead was played by Salimsaab who was an actor at that time.

I see.

I was an assistant for Rs 100 per month. Then the dialogue writer left and I took over. That is when Salimsaab felt that I have a flair for writing. We became friends. After almost four years,the same producer met us. He said,I know both of you have writing talent,why don’t you write a screenplay for me?

He made you a team.

He asked us to write a screenplay. He said,‘I will give you Rs 5,000.’

So he got two for the price of one.

Yeah (laughs). So we wrote the screenplay but never got credit for it. There was an assistant director,Sudhir Wahi,with Mr Sagar. He said,‘Why don’t you go to Sippy films because they are looking for new writers?’ We went there,were interviewed and given a job. That is where we met Rajesh Khanna and got Haathi Mere Saathi. Then we wrote Sita Aur Geeta.

And the rest is history. So tell us about Rajesh Khanna.

We met Rajesh Khanna first in December 1969. Aradhana had released,Do Raaste was in its fourth or sixth week. Both were hits. People realised he had arrived and become a star. Gradually,he became a huge phenomenon.

In fact,there hasn’t been one like him. Not even Amitabh Bachchan today.

He wanted to buy a house,Ashirvad. It was perhaps Rs 4.5 lakh then. A producer from the south gave him Rs 2.5 lakh,which was a fortune as a signing amount. He gave it to Rajendra Kumar (his friend from whom he bought the house) and the rest in two installments. When the producer sent him the script,he felt it would be the end of his career. So he came to us and said,I cannot leave the film…

And I can’t afford to do this film so….

So please do something about this screenplay. We read the script (of Haathi Mere Saathi) and said we will write it on the condition that we are allowed to change it as much as we want,since it was already a hit Tamil film with MGR.

He said ‘Do what you want’?

‘Do what you want but save me.’ So we only retained four elephants and changed the whole script to an extent that this Hindi version was made again in Tamil.

Was he the superstar when he dealt with you? Did he behave like one?

I can’t say if he behaved like one because there was no one like him before. He was an original. He was huge and crazy. You can’t blame him.

Give us examples.

Bangalore used to have a state lottery and the government asked him to draw the lucky number. They organised it in a stadium. I was with him as we were discussing some scripts. I don’t know if I will experience that again,the sound of 50,000 people gasping (when they saw him). He was like Caesar. It was unbelievable.

But when he spoke to you,was there some element of humility and charm?

I am afraid humility was not his virtue,but we were friends.

From one superstar to another,the one thing common between Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan is you.

I won’t take much credit for Rajesh Khanna. Haathi Mere Saathi was the only film we wrote which was a huge success.

And Andaz.

Our association with Amitabh Bachchan was much longer and more stable and fruitful. I am talking of the ’70s. Here was a man who had all you would like to see in an actor. Extremely talented,disciplined,well-behaved and punctual. You ask for a quality and he has it.

By Sholay,Amitabh Bachchan was already a big star. But in Zanjeer,Deewaar,was the character of the angry young man invented for him or did he re-invent himself for it.

We had this storyline and developed it into a screenplay. Dharamji was to play this role and the picture was going to be produced by Prakash Mehra and Dharamji’s brother Ajit. But somehow,it didn’t materialise. Prakash Mehra decided to make the film on his own.

This is Zanjeer?

Yeah. Since Ajitsaab and Prakashji split,perhaps it was awkward for Dharamji to do the film,so he withdrew. Mehrasaab had a script but no leading man. He went to Devsaab,Raj Kumar and many others.

I believe Jeetendra said no?

It’s understandable because here was a leading man who won’t sing,romance,do any comedy.

Who would mostly look sad.

Sad and angry all the time. They couldn’t relate to this. Meanwhile,we had seen Amitabh Bachchan,an upcoming actor. He still had to establish himself.

Anand was already there…

No Anand had not been made. Bombay to Goa,Raste ka Patthar were there; Bansi Birju and Parwana were boxoffice disasters,but anybody who has a sense of acting should have seen that here is a major talent. He was very good and had total conviction that the moment he got the right role,nothing could stop him. We kept pressurising Prakash Mehra to take him.

The invention of the angry young man in the ’70s,how did you get it right?

It was neither a conscious decision,nor a coincidence. People have written theses on these films and their socio-political relevance,but we were blissfully unaware. I am happy that we had no idea,because if we had,it would have meant that we were looking at society from outside. We were a part of it,breathing the same air,living the same life.

You were very young,in fact.

I had written it at 26. It released when I was 28.

Then the partnership took off. You and Salimsaab are very contrasting personalities,I believe.

If two people are totally similar,they shouldn’t work together. At the same time,if they are totally different,they can’t work together. It should be such that the basic morality,aesthetics and value system are common. Then on many issues,they should be different. That is how they can be a good team.

So did you work together or separately?

The truth is,one used to write the verbs and the other nouns.

Who put the comma and the full stops?

Those were also divided. When you work together,ultimately,it is very difficult to decide who has done what. One suggests something,and from that another idea comes.

When you decided to go back to your first love poetry,the partnership had to break.

I didn’t go back. Poetry was always in me. I come from a family of poets.

You are an incurable poet.

If you know what good poetry is,it becomes very intimidating. For a very long time I didn’t have the courage to write,but when my father was jailed I thought somebody has to sit at the shop. I started writing at an age when generally people stop writing poetry.

How you got back the courage for that,we will talk about in the second part.


(Transcribed by Aditi Ray. For the full transcript,visit

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