Salim Khan and Javed Akhta reinvented the Bollywood formula with an extraordinary line-up of superhits, becoming game changers at a time when screenwriting was dismissed as a back-room job. From Zanjeer to Deewaar and Sholay to Shakti, their creative output changed the destinies of several actors and film-makers, and made a cultural phenomenon of the Angry Young Man. Even after they decided to part ways, success continued to court them-a testament not only to their impeccable talent and professional ethos, but also to their enterprising showmanship and business acumen.
Fizzing with energy and brimming over with enough trivia to delight a cinaphile’s heart, written by Salim-Javed tells the story of a dynamic partnership that transformed Hindi cinema forever.
Diptakirti Chaudhuri is a salesman by day and writer by night. This is his fourth book and the third on Hindi cinema. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, a son a daughter.
This story began one evening in the early 1980s.
This was a time when my Hindi film experiences were largely restricted to the Sunday evening fare doled out by Doordarshan. I was just shy of ten years and my taste in movies was dictated by a man called Amitabh Bachchan, and in his about absence, I had learned to spot the word ‘Action’ (or thrills’) in the credits. If that existed, then one look forward o some fisticuffs at the end of three hours of songs and tears-a big incentive for a young boy.
That evening, my mother (the certified movie buff in the family) and I took our positions in front of our block-and-white television the Sunday film, often preferring to go for a walk instead, but that day was in the room as well. To my delight, the film-Majboor-starred Amitabh Bachchan, which sealed the deal for me. My father, on the other hand, shuffled in his seat and wondered aloud if the film would be worth it. A minute or two into the credits, he got excited and exclaimed, ‘Arre Salim-Javed, taholey toh dekhtei hobey!’ (‘A Salim-Javed film, have to watch it then!’) Apparently, these two gentlemen-salim-Javed, as I learned then, was not one person, but a team of two-had written the story of the film and also the line my hero would say.
After the film ended, I thought about this and was quite intrigued that there could be other highlights in a film apart from the actors and the fight director. My father remembered a film called Deewaar, which was written by Salim-Javed, and he said it was one of the best that he had watched. I asked him if it had fights and my father mentioned there was just one. I made a mental not to watch Deewaar one day with just one fight, it was not a top priority.
Over the next couple of years, I started noticing this name-Salim-Javed-and was quite delighted to find that they had written many of my favourite films. Aur Geeta was their doing, as was Yaadon Ki Baarat. Don had their name too, as did Haathi Mere Saathi. And wonder of wonders, my all-time favourite-Sholay-was also written by them. Long before I understood what film writing is all about or the difference between the screenplay and the story, I had added Salim-Javed to the list of names to watch out for in a film’s credits.
As I read more about writing for the screen, I correlated much of that to the films of Salim-Javed. Satyajit Ray, film writer par excellence, talked about the importance of detailing events, locations and characters in a script. He talked about real dialogues. He talked about backstories of characters, even if they were not shown in the film. Salim-javed followed many of those principles, without being conscious of them. Watching Salim-Javed’s classic film-Deewaar, Trishul, Kaala Pathar, Shakti-when I grew order, I realized how good they really were.
When I met Salim sahib for an interview, he said, ‘One hit film, two him films, even three hit films in a fluke. If a stuntman leaps off a seven-storeyed building and lands on his feet, people would call it a miracle. Second time can also be called a miracle.
But if he keeps doing it again and again, you’ll have to admit he has a technique.’
But almost in the same breath, he also said that as writers they had no conscious technique. They were not trying to make any social commentary with Deewaar and they were not inspired son much by Akita Kurosawa as by Sergio Leone.
That gave me the idea of writing their story in the signature Salim-Javed style-a lot of interesting event that built to a crescendo, a bit of context t make sense, but not much of analysis.
I believe they brought a certain swagger to the profession of writing, long-probably still-considered to a back-room job. There were more prolific writers, writers who had given a greater number of him. But none of them succeeded in changing the dynamics of an industry, notorious for being set in its ways. None of them raised their collars and advertised their success the way Salim-Javed did. They struck me as two extremely humble men personally, who were extremely proud professionally.
Strangely, there aren’t too many books on Hindi film writing. Books on Javed Akhtar and gulzar larfgely focus on their careers as lyricists (and in gulzar’s case, as a director). Actors, actresses, directors, music directors, lyricists have all got excellent biographies but not the people without whom the industry would have been just a black sheet of paper.
Here, then, is the story of two heroes.
A story of a friendship that became a bitter rivalry and finally mellowed down to a cordial relationship. And of the philosophy with they approached their work. In the process Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar ended up creating two film families that are doing many of the things that they were not able to do themselves.
In a way, my father-who was not a Bollywood fan at all- started this story, and laid down the benchmark of a good film dialogue. He remembered only one, and when non-fan remembers something, it is likely to be bloody good. For as long as he lived, any discussion on film dialogues with began and ended with just one line: ‘Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin uthata…’
It is not for nothing Deewaar ids called the Perfect Hindi Film Screenplay.
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