Javed Akhtar: Cinema is an edited reality and a mirror of society
"Cinema is an edited reality and a mirror of society. While society decides morality, films are desperate to connect with the audience and fulfil what the society fancies. In turn, the film affects the society; thus cinema and society reflects each other," said Javed Akhtar, the renowned poet, lyricist and screenwriter while speaking on 'Cinema & Society' in a live session last week.
The live session on YouTube was held as a part of the Symbiosis Golden Jubilee Lecture Series and is the second of its kind.
While addressing the students and teachers present in the session about Cinema and Society, Akhtar explained the changes in characters in films with the evolution of time.
"Devdas (1955) was filmed when the feudal system was prevalent. Devdas couldn't rebel against his parents and ended up destroying himself. But, the young generations protagonists protest against the things that Devdas couldn't, it reflects the changes in the new behavioural pattern of the new society," said Akhtar.
Throwing light on other changes in character portrayal, the poet revealed that the protagonists of earlier times were showcased as working-class people in contrast to the movies in the 90s that showcased them as wealthy, as this was preferred by society. "Thus, they change with aspirations and morality of society. Similarly, in the case of the antagonists in the movie, after independence and emergency, they were shown as political leaders or corrupt police officers, later with the evolution of the society came to the cross border terrorism movies, "he added.
While critiquing his past work, the screenwriter admitted that some of the storylines that he had written earlier, he would not write them today. Giving the example of Seeta Aur Geeta, 'where a man starts to respect a woman only after he tastes her cooking' was not something that Akhtar would think of writing today.
When asked about advice that he would give the students, Akhtar replied, "My father's friend had once advised me that, 'Even if you become a grass-cutter, be the best grass cutter to exist. Be such a grass cutter that cuts grass in Rashtrapati Bhavan.' Whatever you do, do it with hard work and passion, and you will like it".
Akhtar reminded the students that everyone should contribute to the club called life and make it better until we leave it, and this is what we owe towards society. "Life has no purpose, you have to create a purpose," said the Padma Shri awardee.
The renowned lyricist had a lot to add when Dr Ruchi Jaggi, Director of Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, questioned him over the trajectory of Hindi film lyrics over the years. As he castigated the new songs for their lyrics, he expressed his unhappiness with the shrinkage of vocabulary in the lyrics these days. Explaining how migration helped in improving his vocabulary, he blames people's indifference towards poetry and increase in the tempo of life, music and language which has resulted in the loss of depth in today's world.
"Tempo is acceptable, but there should be a balance between tempo and depth. Nowadays, sad songs are frowned upon as emotions are considered as a weakness," the poet added.
Coming back to drama, Akhtar shared his opinion on the latest trend of OTT platforms and termed most of the work as mediocre. He considered Paatal Lok and Delhi Crimes as exceptionally written and performed. The screenwriter explained that not all content creators are leaders; there are followers also who are forgotten with time.
"The leaders carry the torch forward and remember to open new doors. Similar is the case with creators of OTT content," said Akhtar.
When asked whether cinema could be considered as the fourth pillar of democracy like the media, the poet replied, "Film is a collective dream, not always the reality, it apprises about fears and happiness in an exaggerated form. Media shows what ought to be true. Print and Broadcast media have more impact than cinema. Cinema delineates reality, but it is not realistic most of the time".
Dr SB Mujumdar, Founder and Chancellor of Symbiosis International University, was also present in the Live Session. He praised Akhtar, an alumnus as he received a Doctorate of Literature (Honoris Causa) from the University.
Akhtar, "the man of words", in 2020 received the Richard Dawkins Award for his free and critical thinking, and contribution to secularism and humanist values, "the bright light for reason, free thought, and atheism in a dark time".
He was awarded Padma Shri in 1999 and Padma Bhushan in 2007. He has penned some distinguished books like "Tarkash", "Laava", "Khawab Ke Gaon Mein". From Border's album to Dil Dhadakne Do, the spectacular lyricist has added five National Film Festival awards under his belt. He has written scripts for Andaz, Hathi Mere Sathi, Seeta Aur Geeta, Yaadon Ke Barat, Deewar, Sholay and Mr India to name a few.
Ending the conversation on a positive note, Akhtar advised the students to stay calm and take care of their mental health during the pandemic. "This time too shall pass away," said the 75-year-old pragmatically.