To celebrate Javed Akhtar’s platinum year, a unique exhibition of 124 framed visuals titled The World of Javed Akhtar will be unveiled by Farhan and Zoya Akhtar at the Nehru Centre art gallery, in Mumbai on 15th January 2020. Silhouette Magazine goes backstage to speak to the curators, Pradeep Chandra and S M M Ausaja, and bring you an exclusive preview.
Dekha ek khwab to yeh silsile huye
Door tak nigaah mein hai gul khile huye
All of us have hummed this evergreen song from Silsila. But did you know this song marked the beginning of legendary of scriptwriter, poet and activist Padma Bhushan Javed Akhtar’s foray into writing lyrics after having scaled the zenith of fame and success as a scriptwriter?
In fact, the Salim-Javed duo had pitchforked the art of scriptwriting to such heights of acclaim that it made this behind-the-scenes art a key selling point for a film. For Javed Akhtar, this success continued when he later worked as an individual scriptwriter and lyricist.
Alongside his work in the film industry, and unaffected by his spectacular success in scriptwriting and lyrics, his pen quietly flowed into the streams of poetry, holding up a mirror to society, expressing feelings, emotions, anguish, love and yes, the clarion calls. Today, when he speaks, writes or recites, his words ignite and inspire deeper introspection in young and old alike.
To explore this awe-inspiring journey of Javed Akhtar that has many colours, hues and shades with many stories and experiences tucked away in the layers, photojournalist Pradeep Chandra and eminent film historian S M M Ausaja have joined hands once again to curate a unique show titled The World of Javed Akhtar to celebrate the living legend’s 75th birthday. On display will be rare photographs, paintings, sketches, film posters, lobby cards and personal memorabilia to commemorate 75 glorious years so far.
Nehru Centre Art Gallery, Mumbai would host the preview of this unique exhibition in Mumbai on 15th January 2020, to be opened by Farhan and Zoya Akhtar. A special edition pen would also be released in his honour, followed by a Q&A with author Nasreen Munni Kabir in front of a select invited audience.
“There are not too many people in the film industry like Javed Sahab, who command as much respect and admiration as superstars. People like him or Gulzar Sahab are as much chased for autographs as stars are,” Pradeep Chandra told this writer. This is Chandra’s 3rd such tribute exhibition on a personality, the other two being on Amitabh Bachchan.
In 2017, Chandra and Ausaja had curated the show titled 75-Frames to commemorate the superstar’s 75th birthday. “He (Javed Akhtar) liked the Amitabh Bachchan show and that is why this went ahead. He developed a trust in us that the show would be of a level he expected it to be,” Ausaja said in a telephonic interview.
While filmstars and actors are widely clicked and have plenty of pictures, collecting material on people who work behind the scenes sometimes poses a challenge. Ausaja’s mammoth archives of memorabilia helped him select rare pieces for the show.
Says Ausaja, “For a person like Javed Akhtar or anyone who is not a filmstar but is a celebrity in his own right in the film industry, the idea is to celebrate his work, not just him. And his repertoire is awe-inspiring. So you will see a Sholay poster, a Deewar poster, a working still of Duniya. One of the finest scriptwriters ever to have graced the film industry, Javed Sahab ruled the 70s and 80s, first with Salim Sahab and then on his own. And then as a lyricist he was just equally successful with a string of hits across the 80s and 90s. The show is thus a mix of his work and his personal life. Of course, we have sourced a lot of photographs from his personal archive, which we think are very relevant to the journey.”
Javed Akhtar has personally taken a lot of interest in the exhibition. He helped Chandra and Ausaja to dig out interesting, exclusive and never before seen memorabilia to sketch his life and works.
Explains Chandra, “For example, between the ages of 10 and 15, Javed Sahab was very fond of collecting autographs. He had collected autographs right from Jawaharlal Nehru, Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor to Nimmi and Kishore Kumar. And he was fond of sports people. He had 4 autograph books which he had forgotten with a friend of his. Some time ago he met this friend again who told Javed Sahab that he had safely kept in a bundle all the belongings Javed Sahab had left behind in Bhopal! The stuff that he sent had these books.” These will be on display in the exhibition. Born in Gwalior, Javed Akhtar had done his schooling in Lucknow and had graduated from Saifiya College in Bhopal.
Son of legendary poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, Javed Akhtar hails from a family that had actively participated in India’s independence struggle. “His mama (maternal uncle) had worked with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Netaji had visited his home in Lucknow. People don’t know about him and would like to see. Javed Sahab has been very kind to give a detailed caption with almost every picture. This is the unique feature of this exhibition,” says Chandra.
Each caption reveals a little story behind the moment and the memory captured in the frame, which no one except Javed Sahab could have known. For instance, in a cinema hall in Bhopal, Javed Akhtar had watched Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai 3 times, little knowing that 12 years later he would be writing the script for the director of this film Nasir Hussain!
“His great great grandfather Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, had been sentenced to kalapani (imprisonment in the dreaded Cellular Jail in the Andamans) by the British government. Houses of freedom fighters who were sentenced to kalapani were demolished by the government. That document of the government order will also be displayed,” says Chandra. The caption will reveal the unique and unknown story behind the relic. “This exhibition is truly the world of Javed Akhtar. Had we just put up our pictures, it would not have turned out the way it has,” he adds.
About 124 visuals will be on display. “It is something we have done with a lot of love and respect for his body of work,” observes Ausaja. “The objective was to make the journey relevant and unique and to showcase moments and achievements that are unseen and not as famous as they should have been.”
For Ausaja, the show is also a personal tribute, having grown up on Javed Sahab’s films and mouthing the dialogues of everyone from Gabbar to Shaakal to Vijay. “It’s a personal triumph for me as my existence in this industry is due to Javed Sahab,” recounts Ausaja.
Ausaja had started his career as a sales executive in Mumbai, determined to enter the film industry. Third day into his job, while making sales calls in the Bandra area, he chanced upon Honey Irani in a chemist shop, introduced himself as a fan of Javed Akhtar and managed to get Javed Sahab’s landline number from her. Calling from a PCO, he luckily got through to the legend in his first call itself. “I told him I am from Lucknow and from Colvin College I would be delighted if he helps me get a foothold in the industry and that I am an MBA and I don’t want to act! It was Javed Sahab who got me my first job in Bombay (in Plus Channel) without even knowing me. So whatever little I have achieved in life is because of his blessings. The start of my journey in the industry is because of him. This is a very small token of gratitude.”
In Mumbai, the exhibition shall be accessible to fans and admirers till the 20th of January. Thereafter, The World of Javed Akhtar will be a travelling exhibition touring Indore, Bhopal, Delhi and Chandigarh.
About the Curators
Pradeep Chandra has been a popular photo-journalist with The Times of India, Bombay Times, The Week and many other premier publications. He is also an author and occasional painter. His work has been showcased across the globe. His famous exhibition on the plight of Kashmir Pandits was well appreciated. To celebrate 50 years of Independence, he also did an acclaimed exhibition in Mumbai. Chandra’s tribute exhibition to Amitabh Bachchan on his 61st birthday at J W Marriott was inaugurated and praised by Mr Bachchan, as well as the press. He has written a coffee table book on M F Husain and another on Amitabh Bachchan, besides penning books on Abhishek Bachchan and Aamir Khan. His forthcoming book is titled Mumbai- City of Gold.
S M M Ausaja is an eminent film archivist, historian and an author with the largest private archive of Hindi cinema memorabilia. He has authored Bollywood in Posters, the bestselling coffee table book released at IIFA in 2009 by Amitabh Bachchan. He is currently working at the Osians Art House as Senior Vice President heading the cinema division. His previous exhibition was commissioned by Mrs Jaya Bachchan for Amitabh’s 70th birthday celebrations at the Nehru Centre. His recent book Bollywood The Films, The Songs, The Stars released last year has a Foreword by Mr Bachchan, who also released it in Mumbai. His third book The Bachchans shall be released later this year.
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