Poetic Justice: Lessons in Success and Wisdom from Javed Akhtar
 

Poetic Justice: Lessons in Success and Wisdom from Javed Akhtar

by Susanna Chandy Mathews
One of India’s most celebrated lyricists is so much more than Bollywood and songwriting. We delve into Javed Akhtar’s secrets to success.

Once a rebellious writer in the 1970s, then a rock-star romantic who penned some of Bollywood’s most celebrated tunes, Javed Akhtar has had quite a journey.

Despite having won 13 Filmfare Awards (India’s answer to the Oscars) in all four writing categories — story, dialogue, screenplay and lyrics — he is also a man who seems to have taken success in his stride.

With a career spanning over 40 years and still far from its twilight, Akhtar is holding strong to both his words and his charm. So what wisdom can he share for those hungry to follow in his footsteps?

Keep Dreaming

For the winner of a Sahitya Akademi Award, one of the highest literary honours in India, dreams and ideals are never far from his mind. When asked about the self-penned verse closest to his heart, he quoted: “I wish I could go quietly in the night and ease all the pain in the world. And in the morning, people would wake up to a beautiful world.” 

You Can Always Work Harder (Whoever You Are)

Of all the caps he has donned, that of the relentless workaholic stands out the most. For him, it is also the most valuable lesson he can teach his two children, Zoya and Farhan. And so, when asked to comment on his son’s success, Akhtar doesn’t miss a beat when responding with, “I want him to do more work and push harder.” For this energetic artist, the drive for self-improvement should never stop.

It’s a telling quote of his belief in perseverance when one understands that the son in question is Farhan Akhtar — prolific director, award-winning actor, and India’s much-adored rock star. A staunch atheist in a country where religion sings the national tune, Akhtar senior adheres strongly to his view that hard work is a pillar of human development.

To Overcome Writer’s Block, Open Your Eyes

With a staggering 100-plus films under his pen, what is Akhtar’s advice to aspiring writers?

His answer is surprisingly simple. “Keep writing — the more you write, the better you will understand where you are going wrong and correct yourself. But also keep reading. Because without input, there can be no output.”

Follow Your Passion

Recounting a pivotal moment early in his life, the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan recipient takes us back to his 15-year-old self being posed the question of what he wanted to become. “At 15 you can do everything, so I gave this friend of my father’s about 10 different choices,” he says.

“He heard me with a lot of patience and then told me, ‘Become a grass-cutter, but on the condition that you should be an exceptionally good one. Even if you become a nuclear scientist, with mediocre work, it is of no use. However small your work, do it with utmost competence.’”

The words had a profound effect on Akhtar. “What I took from that advice was this: choose that work which you feel you will do with competence. And, you will only do a job well that you have your heart in. So follow your instinct, follow your heart, and you will do that which you have chosen with competence.”