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

The poet-lyricist-screenwriter, Javed Akhtar, is close to completing 50 years in Hindi cinema. Having started his career as a dialogue writer on films like Yakeen (1969) and then being a part of the story department at Sippy Films, Javed Akhtar has come a long way. He has found immeasurable success, both, as one half of the legendary Salim-Javed scriptwriting combine and as a songwriter. In the upcoming episode of The Golden Years: 1950-1975, which also doubles up as the grand finale of this fine programme, Javed sa’ab takes viewers through his own journey of how he started writing lyrics and the many great songs he has written in Hind cinema.

As Javed sa’ab notes in this special, last episode, which airs this coming Sunday at 8 pm, “I started writing poetry around 1978-1979. It’s not surprising that I started writing poetry, but what is indeed more surprising is that why didn’t I start writing poetry earlier in life… This is because, on my father’s side, poetry has been a part of our family for seven generations. Even my mother’s brother was the great poet Majaaz.” Among the people who were aware of Javed sa’ab’s foray into poetry was filmmaker Yash Chopra. Javed sa’ab had worked with Yash ji on a number of films including Deewaar (1975), Trishul (1978) and Kaala Patthar (1979). Since Yash ji had a keen understanding of poetry, it was he who convinced Javed sa’ab to write the songs for Silsila (1981), which then came to be Javed Akhtar’s first film as songwriter.

The success of Silsila’s songs prove that Yash Chopra had unearthed a rare talent. From the wonderful title track of the film, to the pensive nature of ‘Neela aasmaan so gaya’ and the ever so beautiful ‘Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum’, Javed Akhtar and music composers Shiv-Hari combined to create one fine composition after another. Speaking on the lilting nature of the melody for ‘Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum’, Javed sa’ab says, “Normally, a song has a single rhyme but because this tune was so beautiful, I felt that I should do something more and have two rhyming schemes for it.” Consequently, if one listens closely to ‘Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum’, one will notice the alternating rhyming scheme that plays out through the song’s lines.

After such a cracking debut in Silsila, Javed sa’ab went on to win many more accolades for his songs in Saath Saath (1982) and Mashaal (1984). Around this time Javed sa’ab also wrote ‘Main aur meri awaargi’ for producer Yash Johar’s film, Duniya (1984). The unique thing about this song, as Javed sa’ab informs us, is that this is perhaps the only song that has been sung by both Kishore Kumar (for the film) and by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (for the album Sangam) many years later.      

One of Javed sa’ab’s most polished efforts on the songwriting front came for Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar (1985). The poet-lyricist had earlier worked with the filmmaker for Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), Sholay (1975) and Shakti (1982). Even though Saagar didn’t do well at the box office, the songs – be it ‘Saagar kinaarey’ or ‘Chehra hai ya chaand khila hai’ or ‘Sach mere yaar hai’ – are still apreciated by listeners today for the lyrics. Javed sa’ab narrates an interesting episode behind ‘Chehra hai ya chaand khila hai’ where he claims that he wrote his lyrics for this song, ignoring the tune that was given to him by the film’s composer R.D. Burman. When he gave Burman the song and told him that he written the song on an altogether different meter, Burman fretted over his decision briefly, but came up with a tune to go with Javed sa’ab’s words very quickly. “I am not exaggerating even in the slightest bit,” says Javed sa’ab, “but the moment he [Burman] finished writing the song in his notebook and opened his harmonium, he started playing the song. I feel like when he was writing this song, he was composing the tune.”

It is this same genius that is evident in R.D. Burman’s music for 1942: A Love Story (1992), a film that released after the composer’s death. Working with Javed sa’ab one last time, the composer proved his virtusity by coming up with a spate of sensitive, soulful compositions in the autumn of his career. As Javed sa’ab says ever so succinctly, “Such is life. He didn’t live to see the success of the film’s soundtrack. People who said that he was finished, that he has exhausted his talents, the same people would stand on stage and talk about his talent and talk of their friendship with him after Burman passed away. This is how the world is my friends.”           

You can watch the season finale of The Golden Years: 1950-1975 with Javed Akhtar this Sunday at 8 pm to know more about the poet-lyricist’s rich career as songwriter. Presented by Dettol and co-powered by State Bank of India and Good Knight Fast Card.

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