Judgemental hai kya?: Javed Akhtar’s rant against Shekhar Kapur shows the very thin veneer of his liberalism

Divyansh Sharma

Jul 29, 2019 10:13:59 IST

At a poetry reading session a few years ago, someone in the audience asked Javed Akhtar about a line written by Kumar Vishwas.

“Somebody has written, ‘Ya to deewana hansein, ya tu jise taufiq de’. Who is this tu in the poem, Javed Sahab?” he asked.

With his trademark expression — the one that makes him look angry and argumentative even when he is not — Akhtar replied: “This tu is dimaagi khalal (mental disturbance).”

Mental disturbance. Akhtar seems to be really fond of this word. Some years ago, in a private conversation with the creative head of an advertising agency, Akhtar had diagnosed a prominent politician as a mand buddhi (low intellect) after finding him slow to react to some catchy slogans and election lines offered to him for an election campaign.

Judgemental hai kya?: Javed Akhtar’s rant against Shekhar Kapur shows the very thin veneer of his liberalism

Javed Akhtar (L) and Shekhar Kapur. Images via Twitter

And now, Akhtar has opined that Shekhar Kapur, director of films like Masoom and Mr India, is not well and needs to see a psychiatrist. “Shekhar saheb you are not well. You need help. Come on, there is no shame in meeting a good psychiatrist,” Akhtar tweeted on Sunday. His outburst was triggered by Kapur’s tweet calling himself a refugee of Partition who was afraid of intellectuals. “Their embrace is like a bite of snake. Still a refugee,” Kapoor tweeted.

Here are the tweets in question:

Verbal jousts and disagreements are part of Twitter culture. But Akhtar sounds like an insolent child by, as Oscar Wilde would have put it, hitting below the intellect and accusing Kapur of having a psychological problem, a dimaagi khalal, just because he has criticised India’s “intellectuals”.

Shekhar, like everyone in a democracy, is entitled to his opinion and fears. You can disagree with his demonisation of “intellectuals”, a word that’s being made, like secularism in the past, to sound like a slur. You can argue that his claim of still being a “refugee” in spite of life’s privileges — he reportedly went to St Stephen’s and found easy access to Bollywood because of his lineage — is a bit dramatic. You can say that he is playing the ‘victim card’ in spite of making his first foray into Bollywood in the company of the very people he is now attacking.

But dismissing Kapur as a “poor, rich lonely” person with a mental health issue is crude arrogance and poor etiquette. By publicly denigrating Kapur, raising questions about his ability to participate in a debate, by passing a crude judgment on his intellect, Akhtar has actually proved the director right: the blowback has indeed been venomous. He has shown that the “intellectuals” are indeed to be feared for their ability to lash out irrationally in public against anyone who dares to question the club that Akhtar not only considers himself part of but also sometimes acts as spokesperson for.

Somebody needs to ask Javed Sahab: “Judgmental hai kya?” For, he seems to have made it his habit to pass crude verdicts to run down people with whom he disagrees, sometimes with lethal and unintended consequences. Akhtar, it is widely believed, had contributed the phrase ‘maut ka saudagar’ to the very party’s election campaign whose leader’s intellect didn’t impress him much. Similarly, he had railed against Sri Sri Ravishankar by saying that teaching rich men to breathe is just a hoax. A few years ago, while delivering his farewell speech in the Rajya Sabha, Akhtar had called Asaduddin Owaisi a “mohalla” leader of Hyderabad. His ire was ignited — for some strange reason that ran contrary to his history of rationalism — by Owaisi’s refusal to chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ to prove his patriotism.

Whether such tokenism is necessary in a liberal democracy is a separate debate. But to demean the leader of a party, an elected member of Parliament, when he himself was nominated to it, was pure hubris.

Two years ago, when Yogeshwar Dutt and the Phogat sisters countered Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur for her views on war and Pakistan, Akhtar, in a bout of arrogance had called them “hardly literate”. This was again characteristic of a mindset that believes only a certain category of people — the ones with a degree of intellect earned through education — are entitled to opinions and views. Everyone else just needs to shut up or see a shrink.

The problem with Akhtar is that apart from becoming judgmental, he also gets personal sometimes while arguing in public. It seems anything that is said against his beliefs is taken as a personal affront that needs to be countered by full force, even if it implies shooting down not just the message but also the messenger.

Perhaps his inability to keep his hubris and anger in check, the ugly penchant for running down people in public, the compulsive urge to speak up for others like a self-anointed guardian need the kind of attention he is recommending to others.

Having grandiose ideas about one’s own intellectual superiority is also a dimaagi khalal.

Updated Date: Jul 29, 2019 10:13:59 IST