Farhan and Zoya are both very successful today. How do you see their success? As a father, you must be happy, but as someone who knows and understands cinema, how do you assess them?
I am very happy at their success as any father would be for their children. But the other thing that pleases me very much is that they have a voice of their own; they are not an echo. Normally, what happens is that when children make a film, they try to make films like their father did. They try to adopt the same style. I can give many such examples. But these two have never done that, whether it was Farhan’s first film, Dil Chahta Hai, or Zoya’s debut film, Luck By Chance, or any of their subsequent films. You won’t see even my shadow in any of Zoya’s films. Both have their own voice, their own identity.
The other thing is that both of them have never compromised for the sake of success such as, for example, occasionally inserting a vulgar song in their films, or putting in something in bad taste thinking it will please the public. They have both maintained a certain standard. How well or how poorly their films might do is a separate matter, but all their films have a certain class, there is a certain decency in them which is a very big thing. These days when people are so desperate for their films to succeed no matter what the quality of dialogues or songs or dances, I don’t see that anxiety, that restlessness, that haste, or that greed in my children’s work. I truly respect this.
Do you have a message for Zoya and Farhan? Is there anything that you have learnt in life that you would like to tell them?
I don’t want to give them any message. Because I don’t think they need any message from me. In my heart I know that they are both better human beings than me. Life has given them many privileges, but that ease, that privilege has not spoilt them; instead, it has made them better human beings. I am very proud of both. And the truth is sometimes, quietly, without telling them, I also learn something from them!
How do you see Zoya’s oeuvre as a filmmaker?
I think because I am a writer, my attention first goes to the writing and then to film direction. I respect her very much as a writer. I think she is a very, very good writer. She has brought something to Hindi cinema that never existed till now, that is, a character’s multi-faceted quality. You can see what a character is on the surface, but she also shows you what is inside him or her, and under the layers. She tells you what is beneath the layers.
The other thing is that she does not hate any character. She has no villains. The bad people in her films, or at least the ones we consider bad, show us a side of their personality as though she is telling us, ‘Look here, it is not his fault. See the circumstances he has gone through, how he has been brought up, and what happened to him.’ And you feel sympathy even for that ‘bad’ person.
Take, for instance, the character of Anil Kapoor in Dil Dhadakne Do. Had an average film-maker made this film, they would have shown Anil Kapoor’s character as a hard, selfish, opportunistic father who is using his children and wants to arrange his son’s marriage so that it benefits his business. What a clever, selfish person he would have been! But she didn’t do that. He is doing all of the above, and yet you have sympathy for the man. You say to yourself, ‘What is the poor thing to do? He has his own problems.’ So Zoya has this quality of seeing every human being with love and softness. It is a very big thing.
Have you ever shared a moment with Zoya that has made you very emotional? And very happy at the same time?
There must be many such moments. I am very proud of my daughter. I like her very much. I have a great love for her in my heart, but I also have a lot of respect for her. I respect her. And that is because I feel she is true to her work, she is true to life, she is true to her family and her friends. Her heart is in the right place.
Which is your earliest memory about Farhan that you can recollect for us?
There are many. Farhan was a very interesting child and so I remember many of his stories. I think he was four or five years old. I was lying on the bed and he was sitting beside me. He had both his hands on my chest and he was talking to me. I said to him, ‘Farhan, tell me something: When I get old and I won’t be able to do any work, will you look after me?’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, of course!’ I asked, ‘What will you do for me?’ I used to smoke cigarettes at that time. So he said, ‘I will get cigarettes for you.’ I asked, ‘How will you get the cigarettes? Where will you get the money for them?’ He said, ‘I will take the money from Mummy.’ I said, ‘But I give money to Mummy. When I am not working, Mummy won’t have money too. What will you do then?’ He thought for a moment and then he clung to me and said, ‘Papa, don’t get old!’
Once, I had written this incident about Farhan and I had also written that when he asks me to write songs for films like Rock On and Dil Chahta Hai, actually, there is a great conspiracy behind it. By getting me to write such songs, he doesn’t want me to get old, ever! Because if I get old, he will have an additional responsibility! And that is why he asks me to write youthful songs for his films.
That Farhan will carry forward the family legacy of creativity, the legacy that has been handed down for generations... when did you first realise this?
Look, our family tradition is that we consider our son to be worthless to begin with. My father was considered worthless by his father, and my father thought I was a no-good waster, and I thought Farhan was incompetent.
For a long time, I was worried about Farhan. I used to wonder if this boy will ever do anything or not. But see how he has amazed me and proved me wrong... it’s something that makes me very happy.
Excerpted with permission from Jadunama – Javed Akhtar’s Journey, Arvind Mandloi, translated by Rakshanda Jalil, Manjul Publishing.