Wednesday, August 7, 2019

How can success be damaging to creativity? A Javed Akhtar perspective

“So do you think that success can be damaging to creativity?” asked Nasreen Munni Kabir in her interview with Javed Akhtar in 19991.  “Yes, of course,” Javed answers, “I think it happened in our case. If we had the right scripts, Amitabh would have done anything we offered him, without question. But what did we offer him? After Trishul and Don, we failed him as writers. We didn’t do anything worthwhile.” Why does this happen – i.e. success damages creativity? Let’s explore in this article.

First, let’s understand why Javed Akhtar says that success can be damaging. “I think what goes wrong is that we get too scared of failing,” he says, “When you’re too scared of failing, you don’t experiment. And when you don’t experiment, you become trite.”

What Javed Akhtar’s interview brings out is the first step essential for creativity to sustain. It is an acknowledgment that I have stopped experimenting and I am just repeating a formula that has perhaps worked in the past. In fact, by 1999, Javed Akhtar had stopped writing film scripts and found a new source of energy – lyrics writing. He says, “I have learned one thing that the moment I lose interest, I will do something else.”

By 1999, Javed Akhtar was not only writing lyrics for films but was also experimenting with non-film albums. He had done Sangam with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1995), Silsilay with Jagjit Singh (1998) and Breathless for a young man whom Akhtar calls “a talented singer and musician” Shankar Mahadevan (1998).

Javed Akhtar’s perspective highlights two questions worth asking oneself. One, are you doing something that gives you energy?  Two, are you experimenting?

Javed Akhtar’s career as a lyricist took off post this interview in such a big way that the title of the Oxford University Press book was changed later from “Talking films: Conversations on Hindi cinema with Javed Akhtar” to “Talking films and songs”. And perhaps later the conversation related to songs was culled out to create a new book titled “Talking songs” where sixty songs were added to the book.

In short, ask two questions to yourself once in a while, (1) Am I doing anything that gives me energy? (2) Am I experimenting?


“Talking films and songs: Javed Akhtar in conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir”, by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Oxford University Press, 2017.