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113 Responses to “Javed Akhtar NDTV interview with Barkha Dutt”
Thanks Rocky, you always put up these great interviews. Will get to this later. But on the Rushdie thing did you follow the exchange between Imran Khan and him recently when Imran basically refused to attend the India Today enclave because Rushdie was showing up and Playboy Imran decided quite some back that he would become Mullah Imran?!
Here is Rushdie’s hilarious evisceration of Imran followed by Imran’s response to Barkha Dutt:
Imran’s entire religious posturing makes me more than a little queasy. Not least because it is so utterly cynical and hypocritical.
Being a Pakistani and someone who is really into national politics, I can tell you that Imran has completely changed from the playboy we all knew him as. He’s become more religious and has stopped his womanising. He definately is a breath of fresh air for us Pakistani’s because he’s promising us something different from the usual corrupt politicians
The problem is KM that I am very skeptical of changes that come about on the eve of one’s entry into national politics. I know he didn’t start saying this yesterday but he also didn’t get into politics yesterday. And even if he has become genuinely religious along the way it’s hard for me to believe that he’s become such a zealot that he finds it impossible to even be in the same venue as Rushdie!
Everyone has differing principles/beliefs and I guess Imran’s are different from yours……I personally and I’m sure millions of muslims hate Rushdie for what he’s done and would not want to be in the same room as him – he’s a ‘daag’ on this earth……
I support Imran’s stance and the majority of Pakistan has supported his actions.
KM, there are a few problems with that sort of position:
1)One can have an ‘principle’ or ‘belief’ of course but there are certain kinds that impact other people. I can believe that aliens are arriving tomorrow as long as I don’t do anything to anyone with respect to this belief. The kind of mindset which believes that one cannot stand with Rushdie in the very same room (by the way aren’t you just a little skeptical about the posturing of politicians?!) is also the kind that condones calls for his assassination or at least doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it because ‘Rushdie asked for it’! And this kind of view is deeply problematic. Not least because the Koran does not offer any such penalty for someone like Rushdie. Because actually there is no blasphemy involved here. It is an irreverent take on aspects of the Prophet’s biography but that is very far from blasphemy. And the ‘sentiments’ of many Muslims at the present point is simply not a valid enough criterion. Because popular sentiment can often tend in radical, extremist directions. For instance many Sunnis today believe that Shiites are the equivalent on non-believers. This doesn’t make it so.
2)I assume you haven’t read the book just like 99.9% of the people who protested. Is this fair? Passing judgment on something one does not know anything about. Is it enough to simply rely on the trouble politicians and religious leaders stir up?
3)I know millions of Muslims hate Rushdie. So what?! Millions of people (or some such massive number) hated the Prophet when he first started taking his message around! Were they right?!
4)And if you’re not open to debate or persuasion on this score note where this logic leads one. You called Rushdie a stain on the earth but you yourself might not be safe given certain other extremist Islamist definitions. Take what happened on the WTC? Whether you were a believer of any sort or not if you were on the buildings with your nice family you went down! They didn’t exactly ‘ask’ before attacking. The logic? Well you’re a martyr if you were there as long as you believed in the ’cause’. If not then you too deserved to die. You too were such a ‘stain’.
One can often resort to these extremist definitions without realizing that by someone else’s rights one could occupy the very same role. The solution? One shouldn’t believe in things that rely on such extreme ostracism.
And to reiterate the point I don’t believe in this kind of relativity where any position is defensible and ‘ok’.
Oh yes , I saw them both, Salman Rushdie was brilliant ( mainly because he is a good writer), however Imran also did IMO make some good points.. TBH just as I oppose MF Husaain making indecent paintings, I will also oppose Salman Rusdie if he did in fact make fun of Mohammad….( have not read Satanic Verse)
But seriously neither one was making fun of anything to my mind. An artwork is always much more than this. ‘Causing offense’ is not a good enough criterion because this is very subjective and different people are offended by different things.
Still waiting for Satyam/ others reply to Rocky’s valid inquiry here on banning/deleting.
Both Javed and Imran make valid points in their interviews respectively. Personally I feel Javed is more words than substance but Imran comes across very real though.
Imran has been a hero/idol in many ways for a very long time and this interview further reinforces that. His points on Rushdie catering to West and then on Holocaust are bang on. Rushdie may be an intellectual revered by the West, but he is very petty minded like most bombaiyah muslims. No Offense though.
I don’t support banning under any pretext. We have become intolerant society and our tripping point has become very low or may it is just fringe elements, supported and aided by Pol parties to achieve there own ends.
Classic case is of Rushdie, how much furor was created( by design) for Jaipur art festival because UP elections were going on and same Rushdie came one month after without raising a whisper..
and About Hussain, he was again victim of fringe elements, just for depicting Goddesses nude, But we forgot our entire tradition is like that, painting, art is all about gods and goddess in Love postures and nude. It was Raja Ravi Verma in late 20th century who gave clothes to Them in his paintings and that has now become norm…
We dont know our own culture, we have not dived n delved into the source material but pick things from Pol parties and here n there.. Its better to go to Source material when its available to know it 1st hand. India was alwyas OPEN Society..
Would love to say more but let me keep it brief..
Ps: Hope i have not offended some people here, If so Who cares😛
Plus the problem with banning stuff is also a ‘practical’ one. So for some people insulting the Prophet of Islam or Hindi Gods is the only ‘red flag’ issue. However for many others it’s other stuff connected to religion but equally lots of political questions. In India for example certain kinds of political commentary (actually many kinds depending on the audience) will incite all kinds of violence and extreme reaction.
The ‘causing offense’ category is very vague and it can be filled in with anything. And you’re absolutely right about Islam. A society (or segments of it) that protests M F Hussain’s paintings (which by the way he’d been doing forever so there’s a political decision made about these things as well.. of course it’s hilarious that people were up in arms about those representations.. if one wanted lots of sex one could do no better than turn to some of the source material in this case!) is also doing lots of other things and we’ve seen it repeatedly in Indian life over the last twenty years or so. The greater ugliness informing all things cultural, most notably with the Sena in Bombay (the Valentine’s Day nonsense and so forth).
The very same applies to the Rushdie affair which is symptomatic of a larger Muslim malaise. And so sure enough we see all kinds of extremism in many other walks of life in many parts of the Islamic world, all in the name of Islam. so people don’t stop with Rushdie. Once you find this kind of intolerance acceptable on whatever grounds you enable other kinds. Again I’d say the same thing. Look at the source material. The Satanic Verses episode is mentioned by at least three of the most canonical historians of Islamic history though they all have different views on the veracity of the event. So it is very much a part of the historical record. There are other issues too.
What happens is that in every religion people repress the ‘real’ (to get Lacanian about it) of what they believe in. In other words they believe in it in sanitized fashion by constantly repressing the actual implications of what they follow. The more radical implications if you will. and so when this sort of ‘truth’ is brought before them they not only recoil but often react with rage because there has been a ‘return of the repressed’. I understand how all orthodoxies do precisely this. But whether it’s bourgeois Hindu views or bourgeois Muslim ones in either case the sanitized sense of religion belies the tradition in various ways.
So there are two points here. First of all the pure intolerance one. But secondly the fact that the ’cause’ for objection often depends on a repression of or ignorance of the historical record. It’s like some people I know were very upset with the way the Ramayana was handled in Ratnam’s film. Of course what they don’t know (or care to know) is that there have always been alternative traditions since the very beginning. And not just in the South.
wow–utkal uncle–nice to hear from u
hope everything ok(healthwise)
well, have seen only bits of rishdies interview–he creams imran khan
lol @ ‘playboy in london’ (oops)
lol@ ‘im the dim’ hahaha–will watch the ‘reply later’ and comment on this later
anyhow–not sure of javed but am impressed by farhan
Dont know why but something in his scene with naseer in znmd showed me farhan akhtar may surprise many (not by direction, production ..but as an actor)
Time to hit the gymn/ track http://www.bollywoodhungama.com/more/news/view/id/1431754
hoho rushdie on imran
btw i like imran a lot !!!
still LOL@ ‘playboy in london’
like rushdies sense of humour..
has anyone read his THE book
what did he write that was so objectionable?
“even after so many ‘generous’ members of press..”
actually not taking anyones side but the ‘speech’ by rishdie was really enjoyable from entertainment point of view–do have a look folks
will check out imrans later maybe
lol @ 8:10 onwards hohoho
Alex–am currently reading an interesting and provocative book, about lack of scientific temper among Indians–Ganesha on the Dashboard by V. Raghunathan and M. A. Eswaran. Published by penguin india.
Good book. Indians need to read it
I was reminded of this book upon learning that Javed Akhtar is an atheist. Even Aamir Khan is an atheist, at least as per his friend Prasoon joshi’s say so, from an interview a few years back. But recently Aamir thanked God and science for the miracle of his child’s birth–so I suppose positions can shift, ha ha.
good idea there LS
Interesting thought there—wonder how many of these like javed akhtar are actually ‘atheists’ or are simply a bit wary of being associated with a certain religion (to be frank)
or are a bit ‘guilty’ of not following some of the ‘stricter’ regimens and hence ‘become’ athiests in public…
as for rushdie, the entertainment he provided on ‘playboy in london’ imran still makes me smile..
NOt know enuf here to take sides though but like imran khan in general
Also not sure why being a ‘womaniser’ debars one from certain positions –as long as done ‘correctly’
ps1-LS-gud to see u back amongst some good
good books after residing exclusively in aamirs SJ thread in a single minded dedication
Do tell us the ‘summary’ (take home point) of the book above (and in two three lines only plz lol)–needed for people with ADHD
ps2–oldgold–am suprised that u remember more details about my activities than me myself !.
But yes-did come across javed akhtar uncle briefly in the states– where nobody recognised him.
he seemed a v sensible stable man with no airy hangups (well, there he couldnt have hangups really!) but i didnt ‘analyse him’ or his cv enuf to pass any deeper judgments
Oops Oldgold -your memory of my activities seems better than my own !!
Guess I’ve to be more careful of what to post (&disclose) haha
Btw find javed Akhtar a really good guy and always have interesting things to say
Has a good command over his language (not surprising given his profession)
Btw he was a bit surprised that I knew his standing but didn’t ask for any ‘autographs’ and ‘photos’
He did mention that jokingly but that’s nothing new
I don’t believe in that..
Javed makes a number of bold, courageous and unambitious statements without bothering to be politically correct. He says, he supports Taslima’s Lajja because it bats for the oppressed Hindus in Bangaldesh, but not Satanic Verses, because it is in bad taste. He has no problem if a well-researched piece or book is written in Islam criticizing its tents or the prophet criticizing any aspect of his life. But taking a historical character revered by many and using him in a novel, splicing his narrative with fictional salacious episodes is not just not done.
When Barkha says that the middle class is angry, he says it is a selfish anger. It is this class that has prospered most in the last ten years, and they are angry about small inconveniences, not angry about millions who are hungry, without sanitation. He has no sympathy for Anna’s prescription for fighting corruption and says the middle class support for it is due to intellectual laziness and the unwillingness to think. He says, it is the bureaucracy that is responsible for corruption, and the Lokpal is suggesting that we add another massive bureaucratic structure. Where are the people for this going to come from? Mars?
He also admits that he is an atheist, but claims his right to speak on affairs related to Muslims. He says , tomorrow if there is riot against muslims, are they going to spare his house, saying, Oh he is an atheist. . So there are Hindu atheists, Muslim atheists and Jewish atheists. And atheists or believers, we have to all co-exist, because every believer is 90% atheist, because except for his own faith he is an unbelieving of every other faith
What Salman Rushdie has done is to mock the most revered prophet and leader of Islam – Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). It’s worse because he himself came from a muslim family. I’m not sure many Hindus/Indians would be happy if an Hindu wrote a book mocking Hindusim…..
Entertainment/Literature/everything has its limits and boundaries. We all respect free speech but what Rushdie does is incitement.
if its selfish anger then what about subsidies and freebies given to other lower strata of people and the corruption engulfing it …the middle class is also raising voice against it (unofficially there number in modern india is close to 60-75 cr and today they are dominant force and among the most educated one)
various taxes and corruption hit them most and so do the inflation
barkha has not done anything but anna has changed his so called home village and was among the first because of which rte came about which brought more transparency and many cynics found them odd to
Javed made some very good points but what is really interesting is that all the commies have opposed Anna Hazare….. and what is painfull is the glee with which they now say – dekho Anaa movement kaise fizzle out ho gaya !! Inn logon ko yah nahee dikhta that all the political parties conspired to kill the movement rather than lack of public support !!
Still don’t know why the commies hate the middle class so much !!!
Talking about Middle Class- I was watching Gali Gali mein Chor hai last night and although they streched it a lot but what really hit me was that the Police can really/actually harass you and make your life miserable if they want to specially if you don’t have any connections in India ….
Interesting discussion here
Agree with satyam somewhat that though Imran may have become more ‘religious’ and I like him as a player and as a cricketer somewhat..
But the ‘playboy in London’ tag can’t just suddenly go away
Good that he’s suddenly left his ‘womanising’
Maybe it’s by ‘default’
Also haven’t read the book
But as satyam asked -who has read the book here first hand
Pray tell us –what’s the objectionable bits
Just curious -not sAying either ways but somehiwcouldnt find any idea of what was in the book
Km-hav u read the book?
It’s hard to explain what people what objectionable about it in a few sentences (of course 99.9% who thoughtit was blasphemy hadn’t read the book but that’s an inconsequential detail!) but the question shouldn’t even be phrased this way. Because the answer would make the book reducible to its ‘offending’ features. In other words there is the cartoon view of the book which incited the violence and so on but if we then itemize the seemingly ‘offensive’ parts in the same way we play on the very same terrain.
My principal objection against the book was something else! I felt that in conflating the figures of Bachchan and NTR for his megastar figure Rushdie was guilty of completely misunderstanding the phenomenon of each. In fact I’d go further and say that Bachchan is the ‘un-NTR’ or for that matter the Bachchan mythos is not about some boring ‘reprisal’ of mythological themes and characters but much more about ‘adding’ to that lexicon with the Vijay (by now) archetype. In the same sense Rajni is also to be opposed to the long line of Tamil mythologicals. This is not even like being a demi-god of sorts who could then claim divine parentage in some sense (mixed birth — half divine, half human). This is about being a ‘demi-god’ with wholly human origins. The potency is then increased when such a figure than challenges the gods (the crucial point about Deewar here is that Vijay isn’t an atheist but someone who’s in a fight with his god or openly defiant of him). Because the moral order that his mother follows has given him a world which is in turn responsible for that inscription on his arm.
I would give the benefit of doubt to Imran unless I know more.
The larger point is one has to remain perturbed with the nation and society whichdemands such extreme religious servitude from its leaders. Why cant some be an atheist and be a leader in Pakistan?
I understand the societal values that demand that he give up womanising but the religious posturing that is expected is troublesome. A lot of nations including India and US have the same but to a lesser degree.
Ok, another so called Blasphemous story- I had read this in one of the articles about a Tamil version of Ramayana- here it is
“Sita- Daughter of ‘Ravana'”
There is an interesting story mentioned in some Hindu books and folk tales that mentions Sita as the daughter of Ravana. Legend has it that Vedavati, a pious woman, wanted to marry Srihari Vishnu. To marry Vishnu, she gave up worldly life and became a hermit and built an ashram on a riverbank.
Once while Vedavati was meditating on the riverbank, Ravana, the demon king, happened to see her. He was enamored by her beauty and tried to violate her. To escape from Ravan she jumped into a fire pit created for yajna. Before dying she cursed Ravan that in her next birth she will be responsible for his death.
In her next birth, Vedavati was born as Ravana’s daughter. Soon after she was born, a voice from the sky warned that the baby will be responsible for her father’s death. To save his life, Ravana threw the little girl child into the sea. The child fell on the lap of sea-goddess Varuni. Goddess Varuni took the girl child to the shores and gave her to earth-goddess Pirthvi. Goddess Prithvi then gave her to King Janaka. As per Ramayana, Sita was found by King Janaka while ploughing a field.
Atleast, he is considering Abhishek for Sikander.
Before long they will have raped every single one of AB’s classics.
Tho, just underlines the iconic status of AB and his movies.
Wonder why no one is attempting a Maya Memsaab or English Babu Desi Mem remake.
Not just this if one considers the history of Bollywood it’s either been remakes from other languages or multiple literary adaptations. Otherwise no matter how important the film people have generally not remade these. What Dilip Kumar film has been remade? Devdas of course falls in the literary category (his was itself not the first one) but there’s nothing else. The same for Dev Anand though he occasionally remade his own films (Taxi Driver/Jaaneman Afsar/Saheb Bahadur), Raj Kapoor (the Shree 420 material has been reworked from time to time including in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman). One needn’t even get into Rajendra Kumar or Shammi Kapoor. Rajesh Khanna did some very good films that are much more than classics but these haven’t been remade. So it’s really only Bachchan with whom that ‘urge’ seems to be keep doing the rounds. And here I’ll just part of a comment from the other day:
[The ‘event’ is what ‘enframes’ us. We are never out of its orbit. The most recent ‘evidence’ of this in terms of contemporary Bollywood is the rush toward his remakes. The important point here isn’t about the particulars but that contemporary stars who are ambitious feel that the ultimate crowning moment can only come about when they take on an iconic Bachchan part. In other words they cannot generate that kind of transcendence without this crutch. This is what the ‘event’ is about. everyone who writes after Shakespeare learns something from him whether in direct or more subtle ways. Once upon a time Dilip Kumar was such a figure for Hindi cinema. A school for an entire generation of actors. With Bachchan something more happens, it is not just that he too becomes that school but that he alters the format(s) of commercial cinema. His kind of cinema overcomes every other kind. Etc etc. ]
Think abhishek was talked about for Zanjeer as well. Pretty sure he will never touch a very iconic film of his father’s, if any.
I’m halfway through Imran’s interview and am already so irritated by him. Saying that people can’t say something because it might cause hurt to people, is utter rubbish. People need to get on with their lives instead of getting offended by everything and then using that as an excuse to cause riots instead of going to work.
Religion doesn’t need us to ‘defend it’.
And indeed, probably most of those who ‘hate Rushdie’ no dobt haven’t even read his book. (Neither have I – I tried Midnight’s Children some years ago but wasn’t impressed).
I don’t know anything about Imran’s policies otherwise so no opinion on him generally.
Sally–if all folks are like u, world will be a much safer and peaceful place
Folks like u should be made the leaders of some of these troubled countries
btw havent seen his interview
but sort of have a weakness for imran khan
Though enjoyed rushdies interview a lot (esp from 8:00 onwards) and it was quite entertaining.
But dont really agree with ‘the pplayboy from london” being ‘im-the-dim”
Think he was probably the only character who could keep his mischievous bunch of talented but indisciplined cricketers together by his sheer charisma, ‘stature’ and example
The world cup win was a rare eg wherein a leader just pulled a medicre troubled team at crucial junctures
Am not aware of the politics within his country but myg guess is that as a leader he should still be better than the ‘alternatives’
ps–wont mind that lady (khar or something) in some sort of a role–if only to ‘improve the image’ of the particualr country–dont mind her
Wonder if she does anything worthwhile though…. lol
alex, u r spot on when u said the imran’s leadership took them to world cup victory-pak were almost out of the cup halfway when rain and stupid rules robbed the proteas of a win and pak went ahead just by luck- but from there the way imran inspired talented but inexperienced players like akram(player of tournament),inzy(who won the semis for them),and mushtaq ahmad(the leading wicket-taker) is a stuff of legends- he was not even fit enough to bowl in the tourney and till finals,played purely as batsman
Was forced to watch bits of ra1
Someone’s small kid girl present
Kids DO get ‘drawn’ to srks antics
saw this ‘boob grab’ scene properly
Man, found it even more gross with someone’s kid girl watching
I mean–if u market it as a ‘kids friendly’ ‘superhero’ film
What’s the business of showing the hero CLEARLY And unabashedly indulges in ‘boob grab’ of kareena for a full half a minute or so
Didn’t mind earlier but with a kid watching felt a bit uncomfortable
Don’t even mind “porn scenes” in Bollywood as
Long as there is proper ‘rating’
U can’t show dodgy stuff in a so-called kid friendly film
All these ‘corrupted’ kids who lost their ‘innocence’ will rise one day against Bra.one
This is characteristically (from Akhtar) thoughtful, movingly honest and stimulating. But fantastic as it is I complete disagree with him on Rushdie. In fact he’s strangely incoherent on this matter and his analogies are completely off the mark.
@javedakhtarjadu Your recent NDTV interview was characteristically stimulating and movingly honest. I was however greatly troubled by your response on Rushdie. To put it bluntly I think you become incoherent on him which is to say that your position on him simply does not follow from the rest of your views. What concerns me is:
1)The idea that ‘decorum’ is called for when one talks about religiously sensitive matters is simply not a ‘precise’ position in any sense and very surprising coming from you because you are that ‘precise’ and coherent on every subject. In other words the term ‘decorum’ (with all its implications) is too wishy-washy and introduces all the subjective attitudes in these matters that you have otherwise always argued against including with this interview.
One’s subjective preferences can of course be granted and should be granted in any democracy worthy of the name. But doesn’t the author or an artist have the very same right?
2)Literature is nothing if not the right to ‘offend’. One either grants this right or one does not. If it is the former one cannot then curtail it by introducing abstractions like ‘decorum’ and the like. And ‘whose’ decorum? All of us have a very different sense of what decorum constitutes. It is not as if we all agree that something akin to the Rushdie matter (or the M F Hussain one) is the only one can causes us affront! If one started ‘censoring’ literature or art this way using these ‘bourgeois’ genteel terms (let’s be frank!) what would be left?
It is not only about ‘decorum’ in religious matters. There are societies which insist on ‘decorum’ in political matters and cultural matters and so on. In these societies one meets the same unfortunate end for causing offense with one’s works not only in matters of religion but also those others I’ve mentioned.
But also the people who claim to find Rushdie unacceptable are also those who find much else unacceptable that does conform to their sense of religious discourse. I would argue that there is much in the annals of Islamic history that would today cause great offense to people. But not many are aware of these things. One of my favorite examples (quoted in Rosa Maria Menocal’s extraordinary Ornament of the World) is about how the Umayyads for a long time had a compass in their palaces (this was built into the walls of the great palace at Madinat-al-Zahra) which had the ‘qibla’ pointing toward Damascus and not Mecca. Why? Because they had of course been forced to abandon Damascus or a few barely escaped when the Abbasids drove them out and they forever had great nostalgia for this city they could never return to. Madinat al-Zahra was in many ways their lost paradise. Here they planted the palm trees of Damascus and so on. But what could be more crucial to the idea of faith (or at least its orthodox versions) than Mecca being the ‘center’ of things. It’s not even as if they were celebrating Jersualem (the older ‘qibla’ of tradition) but Damascus! Now perhaps there were orthodox elements disagreeing even at the time but can one imagine even the most powerful ruler daring to do this in today’s world? I am not arguing whether the decision was correct or not but this is also the same mindset that created the glories of Islamic Spain, by common consent one of the civilizational peaks in world history. There are many such examples throughout the history that suggest a much vaster tradition than the orthodoxy of any age (and in any religion) is interested in fostering.
You have argued for precisely this kind of openness consistently. And you too have caused offense. and your right to raise these questions has itself been questioned. Don’t you think that your opponents among other things also believe that you don’t show the required ‘decorum’?
Now you might suggest that your acts or statements are very different from Rushdie’s. But note how to your interlocutors there might often not be enough of a difference. Those who either call for Rushdie’s death or who are at least willing to condone it are the very same forces that in somewhat different circumstances would do the same with you! Because again either one has the right to offend or one doesn’t. Censorship in any name and with any justification is still censorship. ‘Hurt feelings’ are simply not a good enough reason. As long as no one is being caused physical or such direct ways the rest is just in the eye of the beholder. Take even the Rushdie affair. In just about every country the matter was politically drummed up including in India where Rajiv Gandhi for various political reasons acted shamefully. But without the Khomenei fatwa I am not clear that such a ‘death sentence’ would have been necessarily suggested anywhere else in the Islamic world.
I am not at all suggesting that you are condoning any of this. I know full well that you have always argued against any kind of extremism. But what I am arguing for here is that the ‘decorum’ argument introduces a certain ‘escape clause’. This seemingly neutral, ‘polite’ word is a Trojan Horse of sorts because it can be filled in with anything depending on the powers-that-be. A perspective that endorses Rushdie’s death or at least his severe ostracization is also one that starts calling others of their own kind ‘infidels’ and what not. You yourself quoted a few examples in this regard. So it doesn’t stop with this one matter. It is always symptomatic of a larger ill.
If one thinks about the histories of art in all the ages of the world think about how much has seemed offensive to very many whether religiously motivated or not. I think one index of a democracy’s strength is the extent to which its artists are allowed to ‘offend’ in any and every matter.
3)But something also needs to be said in defense of the book. I do not at all subscribe to the frankly immature view that this book exists to somehow lampoon the Prophet or what have you. No serious writer writes simply for this reason. There have been far greater satirists than Rushdie in the history of letters and even their work could not simply be reduced to this kind of easy reading. Take Swift commenting on the always controversial Irish question in A Modest Proposal where he suggests feeding Irish babies well and then eating them as they’re more delicious this way. So much of his other work is brutally satirical. It is a similar brand of satire that is intended in Rushdie’s work which for all its ‘deconstruction’ of the tradition is also I would say a loving tribute to it. He complicates the Prophet, he renders him properly enigmatic but he does not reduce him in any way whatsoever to the caricature of the protesters (who in almost a 100% of the cases either haven’t read the book or wouldn’t be competent to do so even if they tried.. actually my own personal crib here is that Rushdie errs most when he fuses the figures of Amitabh Bachchan and NTR for his great celluloid character, thereby showing how much he misunderstands both.. the two are not at all the same to my mind).
People don’t realize or know that Rushdie actually is not a fool in matters of Islamic history and culture. It was one of his subjects when he did his tripos at Cambridge. The Satanic Verses episode for example is attested to one way or the other by the three most classical historians of early Islam including al-Tabari. My memory is a bit hazy on who says what but essentially one of them suggests the episode actually took place but was then rectified (more or less Rushdie’s reading), the second one says that there are strong rumors about this happening but that its veracity has never been established, the third says no such thing ever happened and is not worth getting into. But note how this episode was a well known part of the culture at that point in time and to the extent where three great historians found it impossible not to mention it whether they agreed with it or not.
Another example. When Mecca is finally conquered by the Prophet he has the poet Baal killed who suggests sardonically that “whores and writers” are the people the Prophet cannot forgive to which the Prophet’s reply is “whore, writers.. I see no difference”. This episode is also attested to in many of the older records — that the Prophet forgave even his worst enemies but not a few writers who had been bitterly satirical (here the contemporary protesters get some license!).
So Rushdie knows what he’s doing. He’s not inventing stuff. The Prophet’s name in the book ‘Mahound’ is a term of derision used by Medieval Europeans. The author does not endorse it but uses it to create a certain ‘colonial’ distance, which distance the book is about in its other sections as well. So you have the immigrant protagonist who in Kafkaesque fashions develops animal features. Etc. In each case it is not just about how one sees oneself but one how one sees oneself being seen by the (in this case) colonial other. What is said about us sometimes gets reflected back into our own sense of ourselves. Sometimes these terms of derision are adopted by people and turned against the ‘oppressor’. So for example blacks adopted the word ‘nigger’ amongst themselves though it couldn’t be used by whites beyond a point. Apparently the word ‘Tartar’ really means dog in one of the Chinese dialects and that’s the name given to these people at one point in history which they then adopted with pride.
Or you have the episode of women in a brothel adopting the names of the Prophet’s wives. This is the classic structure of fantasy. It is not different than porn stars doing the same with reference to various Hollywood celebrities. They adopt similar names or physical features and so on. This happens at the political level too where so many women (and of course men) become sexual objects to be fantasized about consciously or unconsciously.
So there’s a great deal going on in this book that is about the dislocations of exile and being the outsider and so on. From Rushdie’s perspective being an Indian immigrant in the Britain of the 70s or 80s is a bit like being the Prophet who introduces a new faith. Now one can argue whether this correspondence holds but there is a whole governing idea to the book. It certainly cannot be reduced to anything as silly as the writer just making ‘fun’ of the Prophet. In a comparable sense Rushdie’s evocations of India in various books are satirical but again ‘loving’ portraits. When he does want to just hit out at someone he does so in far more blunt and even uninteresting ways. For example if you compare his portrait of the Thackeray-like Raman Fielding in Moor’s Last Sight with Mahound in Satanic Verses the distinctions are obvious.
I have the greatest respect for your work and your views. Which is why I was perturbed by your response to this question. You, who lived through the Emergency, and are of course so well-read in so many other areas, should know better than most other people how it is just the seemingly inoffensive term like ‘decorum’ that leads to massive problems of censorship and even repression. This muzzling of writers is often launched in the name of ‘values’ and so on even in the worst totalitarian states.
A minor cavil, also relating to the same interview — I think the best films of the past, whether in the 50s or the 60s or the 70s (examples you cited though I think the 70s was simply the most interesting phase of Hindi cinema, not least because of your interventions!) weren’t just exceptions in a sea of mediocrity but ‘symptomatic’ of a healthier system. As you yourself argue things don’t emerge in a vacuum. You yourself correlate cinema with the larger societal values, correctly in my view. And so there is no comparison between those ages and the present. Perhaps you were being diplomatic (isn’t it odd though to be more diplomatic about a film industry one is associated with when one isn’t in far more serious matters?!) but if not I think your music analogy holds here. You suggested that the average song was still better than the cacophony that passes off as music today. Films are more or less the same. Yes there are some great exceptions but the mediocrity otherwise is frightening. Yes most of the stuff in 70s or the 50s (I actually don’t consider the 60s comparable to these two decades.. most of the iconic films in this period were frothy entertainment) was mediocre as indeed is true for any commercial industry but there is difference between that level of mediocrity and the kind we have been witnessing for at least twenty years now if not more. Yes over time people just remember the high points of an age but no one writes scripts like Javed Akhtar today! So even those high points are not comparable!
This interview was nonetheless excellent and a pleasure to watch as is so much else you participate in (liked your speech at the Satyajit Ray event recently as well) one way or the other.
Finally saw this interview — Satyam I do agree: most of it was well worth watching, among the best interviews you’ll ever see of a “celebrity”. However, the hair-splitting between Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen (the latter’s novel Lajja is worth defending, but The Satanic Verses is not) was itself worthy of a theologian — Akhtar was quite incoherent here (first, he seems to confuse “freedom of expression” with the “freedom to display good taste in one’s freedom of expression”; second, who gets to decide what Lajja is “about”?! According to Akhtar, it is “about” supporting Bangladesh’s beleaguered Hindu minority — but that’s not what it’s “about” according to the Jamaatis!); disappointing stuff. He seems quite sincere on it, but that is no excuse.
He was also a bit inconsistent on the issue of remaking films — he rightly notes that when speaking of past eras, we forget the mediocrity (forget, that is, that most films made in any era were probably mediocre) — but doesn’t extend the same viewpoint to Hindi film lyrics when it’s a question of Kolaveri D (he says that even average, B-grade Hindi film song lyrics had some literary value back in the day. I don’t disagree, but we cannot overlook the fact that this literary value was often slave to convention and cliche.).
[By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that the above means that all eras are about the same — but “literary value” is a problematic way to distinguish the lyrics of one era from another. A more useful way is to think about what songs do, how they function, in different eras; how films do so; etc.]
re.-Censorship in any name and with any justification is still censorship. ‘Hurt feelings’ are simply not a good enough reason. As long as no one is being caused physical or such direct ways the rest is just in the eye of the beholder
Satyam- one needs to draw a line somewhere and need the decorum and censorship, waise my opinion on this is still evolving ( Unlike Obama )..lol
But Rocky the problem once again is that your formula of decorum sounds fine and harmless except that it’s very hard to define. I think the simpler rule is to say that art cannot be concerned about such things otherwise it would cease to exist!
repeating my earlier comment – Finally Saw Khuda key liye recently. Pretty well made and good intentioned movie lekin India kee lena resist nahee kar paye yeh log…sample some dialogues from the movie-
1. Enemies ( I am sure they meant India but probably edited out at the last minute)in Kashmir are torturing the Muslims..
2. Humne ( matlab Muslims ) ney India par hazaron saal raaj kiya hai..
3. Humne ( matlab Pakis ney) Taj mahal banaya hai…..
Saaley nautanke……Naseer should have never agreed to be part of such a movie….
You almost feel sorry for this dunce of a reporter — he’s in way over his head. But in general, the leftie critique of the “idea of Pakistan” is the trickiest one for Pakistani nationalists to negotiate.
Not sure where to put this but Satyam I have never read your views on Sanjeev Kumar ( or Hari Bhai) as an actor. He had his moments and was quite celebrated as a character actor. Tended to over act sometimes but generally impressed even in smaller roles. Died a very early death.
I just saw this over the weekend, can’t wait for the second part — I agree that the ever-fesity Akhtar makes for a great interview candidate; but to be fair to Gulzar, Shekhar Gupta is not the idea person where the Arts are concerned. Plus, I don’t get why the interview with Gulzar (or even Akhtar) was in English: the former is markedly better in his native language, and I wish he had been given that sort of forum…
But Javed Akhtar by equating Gujarat 2002 to holocaust in a TV programme has once again proved that he is not your usual poet.
As a man of letters, it is impossible to believe that Akhtar isn’t aware of the horrors at Auswitz or Sobibor to compare them with rioting in Gujarat; horrendous though it was. Akhtar, if he had introspected beyond his prejudices, would have realised that if at all there was a parallel between Gujarat 2002 and the Jew Holocaust, it was the burning of Sabarmati Express at Godhra. Coach loads of people- children and women included- were burnt to death by a cold blooded mob of thousands for no provocation other than the confirmation of their being Hindus; just as Jews were fair game for Nazis by virtue of their religion. Whatever happened thereafter was tragic and unjustifiable but it still had a precursor in Godhra train burning to which people less equable fell prey. People died on both sides of the religious divide, Muslims more than Hindus.
For someone like Akhtar who claims to be an atheist the pain felt over Gujarat 2002 should have been a feeling alike for both Muslim and Hindu victims. That Akhtar and his ilk speak of Gujarat 2002 in exclusive Muslim victimhood terms does no good to their secular, humanist proclamations. In fact, as a litterateur who is better read than average and intelligent enough to introspect, he should have gone further to reflect upon the causes of frequent Hindu Muslim riots. Gujarat 2002 could have served as a kernel for its contemporaneity. If Akhtar ever contemplated something like “Why, how and what could convulse a crowd of thousands into a monstrous frenzy that set them out to burn a train load of people”, he hasn’t let us know. http://centreright.in/2013/08/the-curious-case-of-javed-akhtar/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+centreright+(Centre+Right+India)#.Uhi6cq8o5Ms
I won’t re-enter the Gujarat debate as I’ve been comprehensive on all of this stuff before and multiple times.
On this piece itself it’s that of an ideological hack. He’s hardly one to point fingers when he’s somehow unsure about whether Hindu fundamentalism even exists. Secondly when a phrase like the ‘Jew Holocaust’ is used one should probably stop reading! And then he loses further credibility by saying that if it was a Holocaust it happened on the other side of the equation! His most offensive statement might be that “Javed Akhtar is better read than average”!
Leaving this aside it’s probably not a good idea to invoke the Holocaust in comparisons. Having said that I have myself invoked Hitler many times in these contexts to outline a Fascist ideology with the most violent consequences. Javed Akhtar might not have intended more than this but again not having seen the original comments I can’t add more to this. Though Akhtar’s comparison is unfortunate the writer’s here is absurd. For more reasons than one.
Of course there is another problem here as well. There are atrocious acts of violence and persecution and genocide and so on that fall short of Holocaust standards. The latter cannot be used as an excuse to justify any violence as long as it doesn’t rise to this level.
Finally and as a more general point the problem with this debate quite often is ‘labels’. I am not unaware of the political important of the latter. However it seems to me that where most sides in this debate (and other similar ones) fail is by refusing to see victims except through the prism of such polarities. So who started it first or where were more people killed or did one side deserve it or not… etc etc. Unless one has personally committed crimes it’s hard to see how anyone ‘deserves’ what they get or how their suffering is ‘ok’ because they are somehow representatives of a larger community. These abstractions are the problem. I might have said this in a previous debate but I don’t know any ‘Muslims’. Nor do I know ‘Hindus’. I know people who happen to be Muslims or Hindus, I know people who happen to be Gujaratis or Tamilians or whatever. When I bring up questions of responsibility I am always talking about specific political groups or positions or policy prescriptions carried out in precise ways. I am never referring to larger communities. Even when sometimes people act shamefully or en masse that too is paradoxically not specific to the community. Because communities act this way in many different religious, ethnic, political contexts. Within a context such a community should of course be identified as being responsible but it doesn’t say anything about that community in any larger sense. But of course within the Gujarat context it wasn’t a question of community in this sense. Which is why I reacted so strongly to Firaq (Nandita Das).
LOL, Rocky I was wondering why you hadn’t been around for a number of days and here you are with another firecracker! I can’t resist playing with them either. But both of us should have learnt from masala movies how one can burn one’s hands playing with them or even risk blindness!
I was busy reading ( listening to) The Inferno ..and decided to take a stand ..LOL!!
Inferno is not even half as good as Da Vinci code, it has been written with the movie to be made in mind !!
On Javed Akhtar ..I think the venom he has been spewing against Modi’s class smells of elitism ..
But I agree he is one of the few people who take on both sides equally…
Modi is not inhuman. He wished Sonia well after her recent healthscare. Politicians are not that bad. It is the politics and elections and votebank politics which makes them look vicious and bad. They are as bad or as good as us. If we can empathise a little, we will not have a problem as to who rules us.