Zoya Akhtar© GettyImages

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Zoya Akhtar

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Nayare Ali

Why she matters: A champion of words and frames, this cinematic maestro effortlessly traverses worlds - from Dil Dhadakne Do’s privileged angst-ridden panoramas to impoverished rappers and their tapestries of words in Gully Boy. Father, friend, poet and screenwriter, Javed Akhtar recounts her passage from youthful aspirations to seasoned brilliance.

Zoya began to talk logically soon after she began to talk. She was an exceptionally rational child; my friends had nicknamed her “Rani Jethmalani!”

There was a certain quality of leadership in her even at the tender age of six. She’d dominate kids two years older and decide where they would play. She was a stubborn child, and it was never easy to make her do anything she was not convinced about.

Once, when she was seven years old, she asked me, “Pa, why are shoulders dirty?” Confused, I asked her what she meant. She responded, “Ads for soap always show people washing their shoulders.”

This was a curious mind that could think out of the box. And this quality now reflects in the kind of films she makes.

Through Thick & Thin

Her mother Honey and I got divorced when the kids were young. But the real test begins after a divorce because there are people who are hurt. It becomes even more crucial to show respect towards your former partner, as it takes time to rebuild bonds.

And before I gave up drinking, there was a time I’d drink excessively and call her at ungodly hours. But she was patient... Only later did she tell me how much it disturbed her. Despite all the ups and downs, my relationship with Zoya has remained steadfast.

Creativity & Legacy

As a writer and filmmaker, I have great respect for my daughter. More often than not, films have cardboard characters. But if you look at the ones Zoya creates, they have their vulnerabilities. There’s a certain insight in her writing. Her value system is impeccable, and her films have a distinctive stamp.

You know when it’s a Zoya Akhtar film!

She’s made a large number of films for various mediums. In her early days, she made Luck By Chance about industry strugglers. Then she made Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, after which she was accused of only making films on the wealthy. That’s when Gully Boy came about; it reflects the dark underbelly of society.

I often criticise her work. There are times she agrees with me, and there are times she thinks it through and eventually concurs with me. I conduct an autopsy of her work after every release!

As a father and daughter who work together, our arguments are often a source of amusement for the people around us. On occasion, our discussions on a scene or a song get so heated that people believe it to be our last time talking to each other!

But Zoya is an immensely passionate person. She genuinely believes in her viewpoint. She has strong convictions but also possesses objectivity.

The whole scenario sounds pretty dramatic, and there are times when she and I are not in tune with each other, and she talks to Shabana (Azmi) about the matter at hand. But I know she loves me as much as a daughter can love a father, and the feelings are, of course, mutual. It’s a bond so strong that nothing can break it...

Love, Loyalty & Limitless Potential

Zoya is exceptionally intelligent. People often say I can win any debate, but I’ve lost many a discussion to her! She’s the one person who can checkmate me in an argument with pure logic.

She owns her thoughts and words, as they are original and not inspired. She’s also an extremely loyal friend, warm and sensitive, though she rarely wears her emotions on her sleeve.

Here’s an instance... Recently, 1 wanted to get a new car, and she wanted to buy it for me. I didn’t take her seriously, but she went ahead and gifted me a luxury car! And she pretends she hasn’t done anything!

I hope she makes an international film one day. She grew up watching international cinema, and I believe she’ll be great at it. That’s my one aspiration for her…

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!