‘I can adapt myself to any character’

Amrita Prasad
Monday, 1 October 2018

In a candid conversation with film producer Siddharth Jain, Honey Irani, spoke about her journey as a screenwriter, being a mother and her experience as a child artist

Her separation with husband Javed Akhtar, noted lyricist and screenwriter, may have wrecked her immensely, but she never gave up on life. A well-known child actor in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Honey Irani went on to become a successful screenwriter for many successful films. After her divorce with Akhtar, the financial assistance given by him wasn’t sufficient for Irani to raise her two kids properly — Farhan and Zoya — so she had to embroider sarees for some extra bucks. 

At a time when Bollywood actresses were shown as damsels in distress, Irani wrote clutter-breaking films like Lamhe and Aaina. She also wrote for films like Suhaag, Kaho Na... Pyaar Hai, Darr, Koi... Mil Gaya, Krrish, Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai and so on. 

At the Yours Truly session held at the recently concluded PILF, Siddharth Jain, film producer and creative director at Hotstar asked Irani how screenwriting happened to her. Irani, whose acting career had taken a backseat after Seeta Aur Geeta, continued to write but never shared her writing with anyone except Yash Chopra. “I was very close to Yashji. It was he who believed in my potential.” 


The story behind the script of Lamhe is rather interesting. Yash Chopra had actually been struggling to finish the script for 25 years. Irani came to his aid and finished it in a week’s time. When Jain asked her what exactly did she do in the week’s time that Yashji couldn’t do in more than two decades, Irani said, “For that time, this film was very bold. But I wasn’t really scared. I made Viren (Anil Kapoor) who loves Pallavi (Sridevi), younger than her. 
When Pallavi and her husband die, he ensures that their daughter Pooja, who resembles Pallavi, is well taken care of by Daijaan. Without even meeting Viren, Pooja, who is much younger than him, develops this feeling of love and admiration for him. I think this worked for the film — love is beyond conditions. Although we changed the climax a couple of times, often mulling over both of them dying, we stuck to the original idea of love wins,” she adds.  

And how did she think of making a film like Aaina where two sisters are fighting for one man? “Earlier, sisters were always shown as sacrificing for each other. I was tired of seeing the same old stories. I thought why can’t women fight for their own rights? For their love? I still get letters and emails saying they loved the subject,” says a happy Irani. 

The story of Kya Kehna was inspired by a real life incident where a girl, who was raped, got pregnant and her family forced her to marry her rapist for the sake of society. “There was another guy in her life who loved her, wanted to marry her despite she being pregnant with someone’s child. But sadly, she wasn’t allowed. This triggered the idea for Kya Kehna. I thought what if it wasn’t a rape? The guy (Saif Ali Khan) she (Preity Zinta) loves gets her pregnant and abandons her and there is this guy (Chandrachur Singh) who loves her unconditionally. She refuses to marry Saif when he comes back to her and chooses the guy who stayed with her through thick and thin. 
That’s what love is all about!” exclaims Irani. 

The characters of her films were ahead of her time. Did the makers face issues getting actors on board? She answers, “Not really. Except for Aaina for which we had approached many leading actresses, but they turned down the offer. Otherwise all actors very happily played characters written for them. For Aaina, nobody wanted to play a grey character, which was later played by Amrita Singh and she promised that she would win an award for it and she did.”  

Jain nudged her if her characters are from real life experiences, to which she said ‘not always.’ “Some came from my imagination. I can create characters and I can adapt myself to any character,” she said.

She is a mother of two persons who are not just talented filmmakers and writers, but also those who voice their opinions and take up issues that concern everybody. When asked how did she raise them, her answer was simple and direct. “I didn’t do anything special. They were never asked to read the Quran because their father is a Muslim nor follow Parsi rituals. We celebrated every festival with equal fervour and that’s how they grew up being liberal. Farhan didn’t get undue advantage because he was a boy, nor was Zoya questioned for what she wore,” she added. 

But did she know her kids would grow up to be writers and filmmakers? “I almost fainted when Farhan broke to me that he had written the script for Dil Chahta Hai and had Aamir Khan already on board. He was always this nautanki type. So I had thought that he would be an actor. Zoya was intelligent and sensible. I thought she would be a scientist but today I can proudly say that she is one of the finest writers we have in the family. Of course, she had to struggle a lot more, not because there are biases against female filmmakers but because she had worked under Mira Nair and gone to New York, so people were not sure if she would be able to do a commercial film,” said Irani adding that today technology has improved but film writing has taken a backseat. 


As child actor, although attending regular school was a far-fetched dream, her learning never stopped, even on the film set. Remembering those innocent days of her life, she said, actors like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Guru Dutt, Meena Kumari, and so on would all sit and eat together and ensure that kids on the set too ate with them. “Un sabke ghar se dabbe aate the, aur hum sab milkar khate the. They would share great love and taught us Hindi, and how to spell certain words correctly. Dutt saab explained me the difference between ‘mausambi’ and ‘mausam bhi.’ I was also like a post man delivering love letters,” recalled Irani.  
On Tanushree Dutta

Reports of Tanushree Dutta accusing of Nana Patekar of misbehaving with her are doing the rounds. When asked her take on the story, Irani said that these kinds of things exist in every industry a woman is working. “It is sad it came out so late. Such things should be taken seriously. It’s never too late to get justice. We will do anything to solve this issue,” she signed off.

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