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Poet-Lyricist, Javed Akhtar’s Songwriting Journey in Hindi Cinema: Part II

The final episode of The Golden Years: 1950-1975, A Musical Journey with Javed Akhtar was broadcast this past Sunday on Zee Classic. The show’s host, Javed Akhtar sa’ab, took us through his own journey as songwriter in the concluding episode. Javed sa’ab’s career as songwriter is spread over more than 35 years of Hindi cinema and, in his own inimitable way, he has enriched Hindi film lyrics in this period.

While the last piece discussed Javed sa’ab’s foray into the world of songwriting after filmmaker Yash Chopra convinced him to write the songs for Silsila (1981), there was no stopping the poet-lyricist thereafter. In the late-1980s, Javed sa’ab would write some of the most popular chartbusters of that time when he wrote Hawa Hawaayee for Sridevi’s character in Mr. India (1987) and Ek do teen for Madhuri Dixit in Tezaab (1988). Speaking on another song, Kaatey nahin kat-tey yeh din yeh raat, from Mr. India, that became very popular with audiences, Javed sa’ab said, “When you write on a tune, you must also understand the nature of the tune. Only when you do that, will you write the appropriate words and the song will sound correct. When Laxmi ji [Laxmikant of Laxmikant-Pyarelal] played the tune of this song on the harmonium, the sound of the lyrics had to be as sharp as the tune, only then would it sound correct. And that is why the use of ‘ta’ in words like ‘kaantey’ and ‘kat-tey’, are compatible with the tune.”

One of the composers with whom Javed sa’ab struck a strong partnership in the 1990s was Anu Malik. The songwriter called him, “A volcano of talent, meaning he oozes talent like lava coming out of a volcano. He is a great man and has terrific talent.” Javed sa’ab has worked with Malik on memorable films such as Virasat (1997), Border (1997), Duplicate (1998), Refugee (2000) and Main Hoon Na (2004). Their songs be it Paayalay chunmun, chunmun’ (Virasat) or Sandesey aatey hain’ (Border) or Mere mehboob mere sanam’ (Duplicate) or Panchhi, nadiyaa, pawan ke jhonkey’ (Refugee) or Tumse milkey dil ka hai jo haal kya kahey’ (Main Hoon Na)have all worked their magic on listeners be it through romantic ballads or qawwalis.

Another composer, with whom Javed sa’ab has combined to give us memorable songs is the music genius A.R. Rahman. Right from the time the duo worked on films like Sapnay (1997) and Jeans (1998), they have given listeners outstanding compositions. In fact, the triad of Rahman, Javed sa’ab and filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker, have come together to give some of the best film music of the last fifteen years through films like Lagaan (2001), Swades (2004) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008). Talking about one of his most mesmerizing compositions, O paalan haarey’ (Lagaan) from this collaboration with Rahman and Gowariker, Javed sa’ab remarked, “Song situations involving romance, flirting or a cabaret song, all these songs are easy to write if you have a certain grasp of language, decent vocabulary and control over your craft. Those songs happen. The most difficult thing to do is to write with simplicity. ‘O paalan haarey’ was a bhajan and I wrote it with great difficulty. I didn’t have difficulty in writing it, but in preparing myself to write the song. This is because we get arrogant while writing songs. I had to search for innoncence, surrender and simplicity within myself to write this song.”

With a career as rich and vast as his own, it is but natural that Javed sa’ab has worked not only with filmmakers older than him or his peers but also with the next generation of filmmakers. He has written songs for producer Yash Johar’s son, Karan Johar – Kal Ho Na Ho (2003), Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) and Wake Up Sid (2008), but also for his own children, Farhan Akhtar (Dil Chahta Hai – 2001, Lakshya – 2004 and Rock On - 2008) and Zoya Akhtar (Luck By Chance – 2009, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – 2011 and Dil Dhadakne Do - 2015).

With this concluding episode, the wondrous journey of The Golden Years: 1950-1975, with Javed Akhtar on Zee Classic comes to an end. Over 26 weeks, Javed sa’ab took us through the wonderful years of the Hindi film song, bringing down the curtains on the show with his own journey as lyricist. Each episode was a refreshing insight into the golden era of the Hindi film song, with Javed sa’ab giving viewers interesting analysis and insights into our favourite melodies and songs. The show will be missed but as Javed sa’ab fittingly remarked, “This may be our last meeting in this season, but this is not our final meeting because there are many more seasons ahead… We shall meet soon!”

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