Notes from the Jaipur Literature Festival – Part 2

25 January 2013

On the second day of JLF 2013, I attended two sessions: one by Faramerz Dabhoiwala on The Origins of Sex and another by Jawed Akhtar on Bollywood and the National Narrative.

Faramerz Daboiwala on The Origins of Sex

TheoriginsofsexFaramerz was in conversation with William Dalrymple. Dalrymple introduced the teacher at Oxford in most glowing terms and then took a back seat.

Faramerz made the following main points, in relation to his book, The Origins of Sex. The book was based on his PhD thesis and portrays the history of sexuality and sexual mores in the last two hundred years.

– Sexual revolution did not start in the 1960s. It started in 18th century England.

– Then, sex outside marriage was not acceptable at all; vigilante groups looked for any couple who indulged in extramarital sex and presented them to the courts. They were punished, flogged and paraded naked on streets. Listening to him, I began to realize how the West sees many Muslim societies today: two centuries ago, they weren’t any different from them (from what we see and hear about sexual crimes in the Arab or other Muslim societies).

– Aristocrats in England started demanding that they be allowed to have a private sex life separate from their public life.

– Courtesans were the first celebrities. They published memoirs and were scandal mongers. Their memoirs sold in large numbers making them money to survive in old age. They also blackmailed aristocrats and threatened to expose them in public.

– A famous courtesan (who is on the cover of Faramerz Dabhoiwala’s book) ordered her painting and published stamp sized prints for men to carry them in their watches (like today’s cellphones)

– There were people who wrote books anonymously, published them and wrote glowing reviews of their own books.

Javed Akhtar on Bollywood and National Narrative

JavedWell-known lyricist and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar was in conversation with film historian Rachel Dwyer.

– Javed Akhtar said that when they (he and Salim) were writing scripts, they did not know that they were creating a phenomenon (The Angry Young Man of the 1970s). They were just writing good stories. Only in hindsight did they know that their works were path-breaking, and that they were defining a generation. What were their heroes rebelling against? Very minor things, like, they wanted to marry the girl of their choice; it was a rebellion against their parents. They did not touch any institution.

– Being a film lyricist, Javed Saheb dwelled heavily on the devolution of lyrics in Hindi cinema. He said that film songs earlier had tehzeeb (courtesy, a cultivated manner and civility) in them; now that etiquette is gone. In the past, even B-grade films’ songs had a soul, poetry in their lines.

– You have to be kindhearted to say today’s lyrics are poetry.

– We are also responsible for degeneration of our films and songs: Choli ke peeche kya hai (the suggestive but popular song from Subhash Ghai’s film, Khalnayak) was made by 9 people; who made it a hit? Who were the other 9 crore people? At homes, people proudly told me, he said, see my 8-yr old can dance so well on Choli ke peeche kya hai? What does that say about us as parents? Where are we going as a society?

– Our Vocabulary has shrunk; proverbs have died; we have replaced them with poor language and some bad American words, not even proper English.

– Today’s kids have less than half the vocabulary of their parents.

– Only the poor go to vernacular schools, so they use cheap language, it gets reflected in our cinema, giving it even more credibility.

– Good and bad films were always made: but in the past, most hits were good films; today, most hits are bad films. Show me a good film that has done a business of 200 crores?

– Some young filmmakers are making quality films today. It is good. (Examples: Farhan Akhtar, Zoya Akhtar)

– We had abandoned language and arts in the last 30-40 years. We wanted cars and fridges. Now today’s generation takes them for granted. They want something else. They want arts, and literature, so (that’s why we see) this revival of arts and literature in India.

– I am not pessimistic. In the next ten years, we will make even better films which will have better aesthetic quality.

(by Zafar Anjum)