Javed and Farhan Akhtar are or were the young men that most young men have wanted to be, except they probably didn't know it. In the '70s being young was about being the angry young man and now two years after Dil Chahta Hai, most self-respecting young men have the triangular tuft at the chin. Both characters that defined cool in their age draw from their writer's personalities. Farhan is now wrapping up shooting on what has been their closest collaboration—his new movie, Lakshya, which was scripted by Javed.
Here, father and son talk about being young, their movies, working together, the generation gap and their relationship. They show the snappiness of the young, the mellowness of iconic fathers, and the disparity in views of fathers and sons and also the bonding of two immensely creative men.
What's been your career's biggest risk?
Javed: Choosing a career in films. I come from a family of academicians and civil servants, so it was a risk to be in an industry where you are only as good as your last film.
Farhan: I'm doing what I want to so I don't think about risk at all. I think if you believe in an idea then you should put it out there and be as original to the thought as possible without worrying about the risk.
Are there topics you can deal with in Indian cinema now that couldn't be dealt with earlier?
Javed: Yes, definitely. I feel Indian cinema is ready to accept a more liberated Indian woman now. I think audiences will accept such a woman, everything is ready for her to walk in to the frame. It just hasn't happened yet because people are hesitant.
Farhan: Yes and no. There were movies being made on slavery, caste, women wanting relationships outside of their marriage even during the black-and-white era. Later, in the '80s, the box office took over and began to determine creative decisions. So, the reasons why filmmakers were making films got confused. Even when my father and Salim Uncle were writing movies, they were told they were too progressive. But you can't do things just to be sensationalist.
Do you agree with the old saying that youth is wasted on the young?
Javed: There's some truth in it. But everything doesn't come at the same time. When you are young and enthusiastic you can't have wisdom. And when you are experienced you don't have the energy to do all the things you wanted to. But it's not possible to have everything.
Farhan: No, I don't think so. That's a weird thought. I think, the world over, new ideas have come from young people. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it is rare that new or radical ideas come from old people.
What's the most fun thing you've done?
Javed: I do have happy memories of my college days and all that but I feel if you can see the funny side of life in whatever situation you are in and if you can see the brighter side of life with all its problems, then your life is happier.
Farhan: At this point it would have to be playing with my Playstation 2. But yeah, I definitely remember travelling with my mother. I enjoy spending time now with my wife and daughter. I love my work. The process of work is fun.
What do you disagree most about?
Javed: There's no point where I disagreed with him very strongly and he never really disagreed with me. But when we were writing I would feel the need to make things more obvious than he is. He likes things to be more understated. He'd even resist a clap.
Farhan: I think we saw eye to eye on most things. He narrated the story of Lakshya to me as something he was working on for someone else. But when I read it I was excited and wanted to make it. It just required a little fine-tuning while working together.We never stepped on each other's toes.
You're famous for the angry young man. Farhan's younger characters are different/happier. Does that reflect the changing character of young Indians?
Javed: It does. Farhan and I have different cultural and economic backgrounds so that does reflect in our work. But at the same time we don't belong to an alien culture. We are different but there is an understanding of each other. Yes, I think society has changed. Maybe there's more ambition now and less frustration than there was in the '70s. There are more opportunities now, more room. So, maybe you see less anger.
Farhan: I think priorities have changed for young people now. They want more from life, faster, and they are willing to work hard for it. My father's movies reflected the social scenario in the '70s. Now personal achievement has become important. It's more "me, what can I do". That's partly because there are so many of us now. But partly, the anger in my father's films came from what he was feeling then, from experiences in his own childhood, which were very different from mine.
What's the biggest difference between your sensibilities?
Javed: I feel the differences are in writing. I'm more melodramatic. He thinks in English while I think in Hindustani. So, I with my Urdu background tend to be more rhetorical sometimes.
Farhan: Though I grew up in a different environment, I think we do have a common sensibility. We have a similar thinking on writing scripts and characters. In terms of films, I think a lot of our influences are the same. Another difference in our writing is that he even writes out the pauses in the script, which I don't. Of course, the actors often change it and put their own pauses but he still writes them in, unlike me!
As youngsters, which one of you was more rebellious?
Javed: He hasn't seen me when I was young so he can't say. But I think I was. He was a very nice, sweet kind of boy.
Farhan: I think all kids are rebellious. It's a part of growing up. The more parents want their children to do things the more children will avoid doing them.
Anything you did when you were younger that you now regret?
Javed: Yes, I think I wasted too much time. Even after I got into Hindi films I feel I could have done a lot more but I did not. I could have learned a language, an instrument and read more books.
(On whether he tells his son to do the things he didn't do.) I think it's no point articulating things to your children. It never works. But I think they imbibe your morality and sensibility through osmosis and I think he has taken a lot from me.
Farhan: I used to lie a lot as a child, which I now regret. I think it is much easier just to tell the truth.
Name one thing you would want to change about Bollywood?
Javed: I think it's changing but at a snail's pace. I think the biggest problem is they are not realising the importance of script. If the script is not good enough then any amount of technical improvements or great locations or props cannot compensate for a bad script. I think producers, distributors and stars need to realise that security is in nothing but a good script.
Farhan: There's a lot that needs to be changed. But I would say that we need a lot more equipment to shoot with. The other thing that needs to be changed is studio floors. We need less noisy studio floors sans pigeons.
Was it easier for Farhan Akhtar to make his break into the film industry than it was for Javed Akhtar?
Javed: I don't know. We all have our own struggles. Everyone finds their own path and it is pointless to compare. I have seen bad days, no food, no sleep (which he didn't) but that has nothing to do with when I got a break.
Ultimately, getting a break is hard for everyone.
Farhan: I took as much help from my father as he did from his. I think my parents also wanted me to have my own achievements. In fact, I went and met people on my own and they worked with me because they wanted to. I wrote the script as a fun thing to do. I thought I might give it to someone else to direct. But then it got too close to me and I got possessive so I had to make it on my own.\
Is the target audience different for both of you?
Javed: No, I think audience is the same for both of us. But I do think the audience has changed and evolved. I don't write the way I used to in the '70s.
Farhan: I make movies for anyone who wants to watch. I think this whole logic of this movie will do well here and this one in another place is not true. We just can't say what people will like and what they won't. I think if you do the best you can do and you don't lose the plot on the way, you'll be fine.
What is your personal style?
Javed: I have no idea. I don't want to think about it because I think every artist, in order to be attractive, has to have a distinctive sense of style. But when you become aware of it then you get caught in a trap of imitating yourself, which is a tragedy. So, I don't want to think of it.
Farhan: I think it's too early to say what my style is. My second film is very different from Dil Chahta Hai. It's a different genre. It's edited differently, the characters are different, the background score is different. I don't want to get tied down to doing the same thing. I don't think about people's expectations. I do think about the people I care about but I'm happy with the work I'm doing so I don't think too much about what others think of it.
What have you learned from working with each other?
Javed: Now, even when I work on scripts for other people my son sometimes pops into my head and says "This is too melodramatic!"
Farhan: He is rarely ever happy with what he writes the first time. He goes back again and again, and thinks and rewrites many times before he's happy. He doesn't let his brilliance come in the way of his writing.
All About The Zippies
APJ Abdul Kalam : '500 Million Young Will Transform India' ! Azim Premji: Writing Is On The Wall: Get The A,B,C Right ! Paromita Shastri : Tender Shoots ! Suveen K. Sinha : Age Of The Zippie ! Anil Thakraney: Moving To Gorakhpur With All Guns Blazing ! Manu Joseph: The Generation Why ! Velu Shankar: Teflon-Coated Bubble Wrap Cocoons ! Ajith Pillai: Dumbed Down? Who? ! Sanghamitra Chakraborty: The Next Stage Of Human Evolution ! Indrajit Hazra: 'Potential Genius'? Keep The Tag Intact ! Anil Ambani: "If You Dream, You Can Do It" ! Saumya Roy: Twixt Chawl And Mall Sanjoy Chatterjee: The World Is My Oyster ! Zippies: What They Want ! Javed and Farhan Akhtar: 'We All Have Our Struggles' ! Sadanand Menon: Mad Cow Disease Of Self-Consumption