The best part of Talking Songs is the conversation between Nasreen Munni Kabir and Javed Akhtar. Nasreen, who lives in London, and is a governor on the board of the British Film Institute, is an authority on Indian films. She has written several books on Hindi cinema, and has made documentaries on Guru Dutt and, more recently, on Shahrukh Khan. Javed is not only a phenomenally successful and talented scriptwriter and lyricist, but also a perceptive observer of cinema and society. The conversation between the two takes the reader through the evolution of the film lyric, the difference between the geet and the ghazal, an evaluation of other Hindi film poets, and a discussion on several well-known film directors, actors, playback singers and music composers.
Nasreen asks the right questions, and Javed answers with honesty. In the process, the reader learns, perhaps for the first time, of the complexities involved in the penning of a lyric. One thing is clear: it is not easy to preserve one’s literary chastity in the commercialised world of Hindi cinema, and Javed speaks eloquently of the many pitfalls while affirming his own beliefs about aesthetics and decency. My only regret is that this section constitutes only a quarter of the book, the rest being a compilation, and a translation into English by Nasreen, of 60 selected songs of Javed.