Noted lyricist talks about his work in Rajya Sabha and state of Indian films.
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Read this interveiw at the International Business Times.
By Asif Ismail
Poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar was in Washington at the end of his five-city North America tour to promote his second collection of poems, Lava. In an interview with Global India Newswire last week, he talked about the book, his work in Rajya Sabha and the state of Indian films, among other issues. Here are excerpts:
How has the book been received so far?
Very good. The reception of the book is very good in India also. Within a month or so, the Hindi edition has gone in to the third edition.
Like poetry, politics is also in your blood. Recently, you completed two years in Rajya Sabha. How would you evaluate your work as an MP?
Well, my two years in Rajya Sabha have been an extremely enriching experience. I met a lot of people who really matter [and] understood things from them much better. Within these two years, I have been working on a particular issue, a particular cause -- the copyright of the composers and writers. Very thankfully the government has made a bill, brought it to Parliament, and within two years, this bill got totally unanimous support from both the houses... and within two years, the bill has been passed and now it's an Act. India has given, I can say very proudly, one of the finest laws to the composers and writers in the world. This Act, this law, secures the royalty of writers and composers forever.
In India, the concept of intellectual property doesn't have deep roots. How effective will be the law?
Yes, perhaps. But 63 years ago, we had no culture of democracy. Today, we have democracy and it is very deeply rooted in our soil... We are not only physically and financially, but as a matter of fact, intellectually, mentally and psychologically also entering the industrial era, the corporate times. It cannot be selective. This era, or this time, cannot come only for certain people and rest of them remain poor wretched souls, remain in feudal times, in feudal values, and be treated like bonded laborers. So things are changing. Like, the film industry also, within the last 10-15 years has changed a lot. Their financial system, the arrangements, the way of making films, financial channels, the outlets -- all of them have changed to a great extent. This change has to come down to the workers also. It is not possible that the producers, the companies will have all the privileges of ...an industry, and rest of the people, the workers, will not have the advantages or benefits of working in an industry. And I think this particular Act is one major step in that direction, and many steps will follow that.
The role of poetry in the public sphere is on the decline. What can be done to reverse that?
You see, life offers you packages. And every package has something good and something bad. What has happened is that [there's] this huge surge of industrialization. The middle class and the upper middle class are really having a party. Although unfortunately, this newfound prosperity has yet to reach the lower middle class, yet to touch the rural India, I suppose with time, it will happen and we should see to it that it happens. It is always the urban middle class, the upper middle class, who are the patrons of art and literature, who generate it and who nurture it. Perhaps this class has become too busy making money. On the list of their priority, literature, poetry, fine arts are rather low, if they are on the list at all. And it is showing. There is certain kind of lack of aesthetics, which is happening in our society. And it should be a matter of great concern. Language is shrinking, not only poetry, language itself is shrinking. People have smaller vocabulary. And words are not ideas, but words are the bricks with which you make ideas. And you should have ample bricks with you to think clearly. If you don't have enough words, it is difficult to think clearly because you think in words. So language is very important. Besides that language gives you identity, it gives you roots, it gives you information [regarding] who you are, a sense of belonging with others who are speaking this language. We, as a society, are rather indifferent to these realities at the moment, which is frightening, which is very dangerous, and I think the education system, society, and families should think about it.
We live in an age of electronic and visual revolutions, in which words are losing their power...
Perhaps, things can be done, made to happen without too many words. "Yes," and "no" is enough. Or "delete" or "save" is good enough for many things. But, I think, life is not a machine. I hope life will never turn into a machine. The warmth, emotion, feelings, compassion, these things cannot be codified totally. That fuzzy area of our thinking, of feeling, should remain there. That makes us human beings.
Last year, you took issue with a very popular song, Kolavari Di, in a tweet...
I think it was unnecessarily made a very big issue. Everybody, on twitter and other platforms, was going gaga over it. So I told them, "Listen, somebody should have the courage to tell that the emperor is not wearing anything." You get intimidated by popularity. Sometimes I feel that fashions and fads are also contagious. Somebody does it, so somebody [else] does it. So that's how it happens. Most of our opinions are off the shelves. We don't have the guts and courage to have our own opinion, and particularly if it is not a popular opinion. So somebody has to break the silence. And that's all I did. It is not the mission of my life to prove that one particular song is bad or inferior -- it is okay. If some people like it, that's their problem, not mine.
Isn't that song a reflection of the musical sensibility of our era?
I think it shows how things can be made popular, for a while at least. If [a song] is so very good, then it will be remembered for years. Like you remember so many songs that you can recall which were recorded or played 50 years or 60 years ago. But these songs, they come and for a while they create some kind of a noise and draw attention, they vanish without a trace within a month. So they are hyped, artificially hyped; when the hype is withdrawn, the song also vanishes. [Such songs are] not the part of Indian listeners' psyche.
What's the state of film lyrics and film songs in general?
I think we are reaching a turning point. There is a bend on the road. These kinds of item songs are fast losing their utility. Such things cannot stay for a long time. It has happened in the past also. They come for a while and everybody gets enamored. Very soon people get bored. And again they start looking for songs, which has certain depth, certain meaning, certain feeling - the songs that touch their heart. That shall happen again.
The Indian society seems to be becoming more and more intolerant. We want to ban books, movies and cartoons. We are economically integrated with the rest of the world, but, it seems like, we are resisting certain other part of modernity...
Whenever change is occurring, there is a section of the society that tries to stop it. There are conservatives who believe that nothing should be done for the first time. This intolerance that you see... it is there because the intolerant people can see that major change is occurring. They are coming to us, and they are almost inevitable. And they are fighting a losing battle. This intolerance is not in an average Indian. [It] is engineered, crafted, programmed and imposed upon the society, which is never spontaneous. It is never the morality of an average Indian. As a matter of fact, on the other side, you will see the kind of films that is made today, whether it is Kahani, Vicky Donor, or Dirty Picture, or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Now the whole morality, the image of the woman in films, has changed. It's no longer the docile doormat that you would see in the '50s and '60s. Melodrama has gone out. The kind of stories that are being made by young people are marvelous, they have contemporary morality. And these pictures are doing extremely well. So it means this is the morality of the society and the society accepts these things. On the other side, there are some conservative people, archaic people who are trying to impose totally obsolete values on society, but they will lose -- they always lose. (Global India Newswire)