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Interview: The magic of words

July 15, 2012


When a legend visits you stand up and pay tribute. And Toronto did just that when renowned Urdu songwriter and poet Javed Akhtar graced the halls of Pearson Convention Centre recently. In what can be termed a rare occasion, the Consul Generals of Pakistan and India in Toronto shared the stage with Prof. Gopi Chand Narang to pay Akhtar a well-deserved tribute.

Akhtar was touring North America for the launch of Lava, his second book of poems. After London, Toronto boasts of the largest Urdu-speaking diaspora, who flocked all the way from Edmonton, Alberta to watch what he does best — read his poetry. The rendition was followed by a live musical tribute including 19 of his award-winning songs from Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga (1995) to Tumse milke (2009).

“I love what I do, and to be successful, I think, one must first like whatever you are doing before others can like it,” he said.

His speech is punctuated with poetry, “It’s important for us to have some poetry in our lives. I see myself as not just a songwriter, but as a poet, and lyricist. I am not an either or, I am all of it and that I see this as a function of the success I have in this extremely volatile industry. For me fusion in cinema is cyclical. For now, this knee-jerk song-and-dance is here, but will it stay, is to be seen. While poetry has survived and I think it will revive,” adds Akhtar.

Being a multiple award winner and songwriter of block buster hits like Sholay and Zanjeer; how does Akhtar feel about writing songs for Bollywood and the poetry in his books Tarkash and Lava?

“When I am commissioned to write songs for movies there are several variables I need to run through before I even start. My lyrics must fit the script, situation, tune and most importantly the intellectual level of the character or the human face of the song. I have to feel and connect with the character and the situation. It may not be what I like and ever so often I treat it as a job. It is work and pays the bills.”

For Akhtar writing is an organic process as he points out in his song Ek ladki ko dekha to aisa laga (1942 A Love Story). While he was given the situation he knew he had to swim with it and while he may not have been inspired by the female lead in the film, the song fit into the grid, tune and tense of the movie for which he was commissioned to write.

“On the other hand when I write my poems I do so for myself,” adds Akhtar, savouring a bowl of Sindhri mangoes, handpicked for him from a local desi store in Brampton. “I choose the topic, the metre, the style and if I like what I have written I publish it, if not I junk it. It is purely my point of view and no one else.’

However, for Akhtar who is also a member of India’s Upper house of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), an even greater achievement is his successful stick handling of India’s Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2012.

This bill which has been passed by both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha houses of India’s parliament will go onto ensure that lyricists, singers and music composers will earn royalty every time their music is played in any part of the world.

The 1957 law on copywright was, according to Akhtar, in favour of film producers who didn't have to share the royalty of a song with its composers who work hard on it.

The Amendment Bill effectively makes authors, lyricists, composers, and other artistes owners of the copyright of their work in films, which had previously been assigned to film producers. It also requires radio and TV broadcasters to pay royalties to the owners of the copyright every time a work is broadcast.

“Each time a song was played the royalties were siphoned off by the producers. They did not trickle down to those who wrote the songs. This Amendment will change things forever and I am proud to have served future generations of musicians and songwriters. It is a legacy which I am proud to have been a part of.”