Sydney relishes an insightful afternoon with Shabana and Javed Akhtar

By Neeru Saluja

When the best of poetry, literature and acting is integrated with melodious music, every art lover is in for a treat. As the stars of ”˜Kaifi and Main’ Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Jaswinder Singh and Ramesh Talwar came together for the press conference ahead of the show, the media enjoyed a stimulating and enriching afternoon.

Spearheaded by Manju Mittal of SAI Creative Arts Network (SCREAN) Australia Pty Ltd, ”˜Kaifi aur Main’ is the story of legendary poet Kaifi. Says his daughter and acclaimed actress Shabana Azmi, “Kaifi aur main’ has something for everyone, be it romance, poetry or music. This is not only a play for me, this is the story of my father, every word about him is from the chapters of his enriched life and Javed has shaped it into a story.

Says Shabana further about her father and her childhood, “He was not only my father, but my friend, guide and mentor. I was brought up in a world of theatre and poetry. I used to always be fascinated by my father’s poetry circle and my father always encouraged me to be part of it. We were taught that art is a form to change the society. Our values were to respect elders”.

”˜Kaifi aur Main’ has been directed by theatre, television and film director Ramesh Talwar who is planning to do 100 shows this year. “The play was written in a very short time span but we all gave our heart and soul to it. We are very delighted that everyone across the world has applauded this play and we are now bringing it to Sydney”.

Eminent screenwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar who has written this play, was also part of the Kaifi household being a poetry lover himself. Dreaming of being a part of the film industry, he always had a flair for writing. “As a child when you watch Bollywood films, you grow up dreaming of an actor as that’s the hero you see on screen. No one knows who is the director or writer. During my graduation, I decided I would join the film industry via direction. I learnt direction but I started to write side by side. I met Salim sahib and he was also fond of writing, we used to often catch up and spend our evenings writing stories. Actor Rajesh Khanna gave me my first break with ”˜Haathi Mere Saathi’. The film was a remake and we had to strengthen the script.   There was no looking back since then,” says Javed describing the laborious three-way translation of the movie which was made in the South first, “They’d speak to me in Tamil, then someone will translate in English for me and then I would ask them in Hindi which again got translated into Tamil by the interpreter. This is how we extracted the true nuance of the film which was just a story of four elephants and their master.”

But things have changed now. Good lyrics and poetry are missing in today’s films, to what Javed declares, “Education now strives to change the socio-economic status of people’s lives, not to enhance their sensitivities. In the list of priorities where attaining a MBA or IT degree tops, literature and classical music have no space. Making money has become the ultimate goal. These days the homes have books that are selected by an interior decorator to match the furniture and colour coordination. In such situations, art and poetry doesn’t exist.”

On being asked about his childhood name Jadoo by his father Jaan Nisar Akhtar, a well-known poet, said Javed, “For the first two years of my life I was called ”˜Jadoo’ and I remember being told that instead of reading kalma in my ears when I was born they had read the Communist manifesto.”

When asked about why the Pakistani artists are being banned in India, Javed’s reply was pretty straight forward that India has always played host to artists from Pakistan such as Ustad  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Noor Jahan, he rather asked, “How come Lata or any other artists have not been invited by them.”

Shabana talked about her experience working in Hollywood as well as Bollywood films when she said, “It’s the way films are made over there. They’d have scripts ready and each and every department would get the script whereas in India the scripts were being written as we enacted our scenes. Kader Khan in another part of the town would still be writing away the script and would send us at the nick of time by telex. But then I remember while shooting for ”˜City of Joy’ they had brought the whole equipment to create rain which when failed two of the Indian boys in the crew just used hoses to create rain. Indians are known for their jugad and are quite resourceful that way.”

Shabana was also asked what was her defining moment as a woman having come from a rich literary household and married to Javed and having acted in films, to which she answered, “I have acted in many films but my role in the movie ”˜Arth’ was the defining moment for me. And my work and my films define me anyway.”

The afternoon ended up with a big smile on Javed’s face when he was asked to recite one of his nazms, ”˜Woh Kamra’. Taking us on a poetic journey with his beautiful scripted words, the informative afternoon made us realise that good lyrics, literature and art still exist in our changing society.



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