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Javed Akhtar on films, scripts, performers and language: Birthday special

In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com on the eve of his 72nd birthday (17 January), the celebrated writer, lyricist and poet looks back on a five-decade-long career and the changes he has seen and loves.

Shriram Iyengar

Anyone entering Javed Akhtar's home will be left in no doubt that she is entering the premises of someone with a highly developed aesthetic sense. We arrived while the poet was in the midst of correcting some of his work while wife and top-notch actress Shabana Azmi relaxed on a couch, having just won another Filmfare award to add to her not inconsiderable collection of awards. As you wait alongside the beautiful, poignant murals by MF Husain, a larger-than-life mural of Kaifi Azmi looks down upon you from another wall. There is no doubt this is the abode of a poet and a humanist.

Even as he arrived and apologized for keeping us waiting, Javed Akhtar's trained eye did not miss the camera angles. He might have just turned 72, but his skill remains sharp as ever. In a genial mood, the man who formed one half of the deadliest scripting partnership in the history of Hindi cinema spoke on a wide range of topics from his writing tics (I am particular about ruled paper, he said genially) to his take on set design in the past (It was an anarchy of colours, he admitted).

"As long as you keep your antennae tuned to the outside, you will be fine," he said, speaking about keeping the creative fires alive. Incisive, eloquent and articulate, Javed Akhtar remains a powerful voice in the Indian film industry, just as he was 40 years ago. But it is a different industry today. Akhtar described how pleased he is at the quality of scripts and acting that is coming through. The boys need to buck up though. The writer was profuse in his praise for Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra and "the girls" but could not see any of the current crop standing comparison with a Dilip Kumar or an Amitabh Bachchan. As for scripts, the change in bold rhetoric from the 1970s (thankfully, he added) impresses him.

Regardless of his connection with the film industry, the passion for literature and language continues to burn strongly in Akhtar. As we meandered through various topics, the poet within him launched into a long and eloquent defence of the importance of literature and language. "Language is not just a vehicle of communication," he reminded us. "It is a vehicle of culture, tradition, values, and identity."

Many happy returns of the day, Javed saheb.