Salim-Javed, the very popular screenplay writer team are unassuming, open-hearted people with none of the filmi nakhras about them, thankfully! They came from Indore and Lucknow respectively with no intention of making writing their careers. While in Indore, Salim was keen on becoming a pilot but was forced to give up the idea because of the serious accidents he had encountered. He made his way to Bombay having been signed by K. Amarnath for a film. Javed on the other hand was bent on becoming a director but writing being in his blood (his father was a poet, his mother a writer) he landed up in the same boat after coming in contact with Salim. The latter very wisely realising his shortcomings as an actor on the screen (he was much better off-screen) gave it up and resorted to writing, which he felt he could excel in.
The duo didn’t realise that they were onto a good thing in more ways than one, when they took up script writing for it was in the course of their careers that they got what was equally important to them – their wives.
While working on the script of SEETA AUR GEETA, there was a role of a spoilt, irritating girl. It was then that Javed, with the best of intentions, suggested Honey’s name after having seen her in KATI PATANG. His suggestion holding as much weight as Honey, the shooting began and three months later, when the set was dismantled, Honey and Javed were man and wife. Salim’s wife Salma wasn’t very easily won. Salim doesn’t make decisions that quickly, especially in matters of likes and loves. Living opposite each other at Mahim, they casually got talking one day. Gradually they developed a fondness for each other and this blossomed into love. But at this stage, Salim was in no position to support a wife and family.
Salma, hailing from an orthodox family (Maharashtrian mother and Punjabi father) began having problems at home, possibly because of her relationship with Salim. However, Salim promised he would marry her as soon as he was able to do so. And so their love deepened, as they got to know each other more closely over a period of five years. The long wait proved fruitful. For even before Salim was properly established, they were wed. He promised that no matter what differences arose between the two, religion would never be one of them.
Soon both Salim and Javed settled down to becoming fathers, Salim of four children (three boys and a girl) and Javed of a lahaan kutumb as he calls it, well balanced with a girl and a boy.
Salim describes his wife as good-looking by his standards (he wasn’t too sure if I felt the same) with average efficiency in running the home. “Where Salma excelled in my eyes,” says Salim “was during that period in my life when I wasn’t very well off. Not at any moment during those days did she give me the feeling that she had made the wrong move by marrying me. The problem of good food, clothes or meals never bothered her. When money came, too, she didn’t change. Salma has always been very generous.” Talking of generosity, Salim has scores of people dropping in from his hometown for help and, unlike other film celebrities, he welcomes them and sends them away happy.
Javed says, “My wife was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. In her whole life, she has travelled only once by train,” he continued teasing, until I inquired. “Ah yes!” sighed Javed, “and it takes a good husband as me to address her as Honey, even when differences arise.” Javed and Honey, I found, differed immensely from each other, and Javed confirmed it for me, but opposites attract and that’s why he married her. “What’s the use of marrying somebody who is exactly like you,” he quips. “It’s just like getting married to your own self.”
Javed is a home-loving man, enjoys his own company or the company of interesting people. He leads a lazy, careless, carefree life, is generally and (not always) honest. Honey is more outgoing and open-hearted. Javed says she has more gusto and enjoys anything which provides an outlet for her large reservoir of energy – parties, dances, movies, anything that gives her a kick. She hates it when he doesn’t accompany her, and Javed detests being compelled to do so. He tries making all sorts of excuses to get away, but this doesn’t always help. Sometimes Honey persists, and Javed has to relent, much against his wishes.
The other little peeves he has against her are that she is a spendthrift, is often quite suspicious of him and what is worse is that she is often right. What most attracted him to Honey was her super sense of humour, which he feels is a rare quality in girls. For that matter, anybody with wit appeals to Javed. Birds of the same feather, what? Both Salim and Javed share the same opinions when it comes to socialising among film folk. Javed says that going to film parties is not very good for the eyes and jaw muscles. “At every party you meet the same people, who ask the same questions and you give the very same answers. After a few pegs, everybody’s put-on courtesy vanishes and people tend to get nasty. I would rather stay at home and have a battle of wits with a few of my own kind.”
Salim also favours relaxing at home every evening with a few friends over drinks, or with his wife and kids. He does not encourage business talk at this time. What Salim and his wife cannot tolerate in film people are their false airs. “When I’m expected to be too courteous and exhibit extra good manners all the time, then it gets on my nerves,” says Salim. Salim doesn’t believe in going out of his way to read film magazines either. Not that he bears a grouse against any of them. “It’s just that when you read something untrue and unpleasant about yourself, you spend too much time brooding and nursing grudges against people. I’m happier the way I am.”
Salim’s wife was in fact a little upset about this interview. Salim wasn’t in favour of it either, for they prefer not to publicise their private lives. “There must be some kind of a mystery around us, shouldn’t there?” she asked. But being the gentlemen that they are both Salim and Javed obliged me. That’s about the only advantage a girl has in this line.
Did Javed make Honey give up her profession? I inquired. “Not at all,” he replied. “She had stopped acting on her own and has started reacting now. Isn’t that enough?” Javed is all praise for the career woman. But he notices that marriage is the ultimate in the life graph of most girls, and this is basically why most women can never attain an equal footing with men. “They should never even ask for equal rights, unless they are economically balanced,” he says. “But girls don’t strive towards this goal; they just happily accept their roles as secondary beings. To men marriage is just another step in life. So why should girls consider marriage as the be-all and end-all of things?” Honey, though all for emancipation, doesn’t find the need to work now and she doesn’t even miss it. All those years in the industry since the age of two-and-a-half, were more than enough.
As for Salma, managing a handful of kids keeps her going from dawn to dusk. It’s either taking their lessons to playing catching cook, or spinning yarns for them. “The children hardly treat me as a mother,” she complains. “Mummy you want to be my mother or my friend?” asks Salman, the eldest and she obviously wants to behave in the manner they like best.
Salim also spends a lot of time with his children, because he wants them to have a certain rapport with him. He teaches them to respect their elders, never tell lies, “but you should see my sons’ reaction, when a phone call comes from somebody whom I don’t want to speak to. If I tell my wife to say I’m not home, I’ve had it. ‘You tell us not to lie and you nicely tell lies, huh daddy,’ they declare. Then I have to justify my lie with suitable reasons. The latest craze with Salman, Arbaaz, Sohail and Alvira, is Bruce Lee and they question me, ‘Daddy can Bruce Lee ever beat you?’ and I say ‘No’. And they say ‘Arre, if he gives you one hit, you will fly three miles.’ And Daddy ultimately laughs and submits to them. During the little spare time, which the couple get to themselves, Salim either goes to the club to play billiards or sits and listens to music, while Salma’s favourite pastime is reading.
Javed’s kiddies are too small for all these tricks. All they want is chocolates and goodies to keep them happy. About spending the evenings together you’ll be surprised, but Javed and Honey very seldom do. “Are you married?” Javed asked me. “No,” I replied, not seeing any connection. “Well, when you get married you will realise that husband and wife rarely have very much to say to each other.” I suppose most of it is said before marriage. “There has to be a third person to carry on a conversation,” Javed confided. I wasn’t too sure, though.
Where do they stand with regard to religion? Salim says he believes in the principles of religion but not in the form and ceremonies. Although Salim and his children worship according to Islamic traditions, he has given his children the freedom to choose whatever religion they would like to when they grow up.
As for Javed and his wife, they don’t believe in religion as an institution. Javed was once an atheist, but no longer is. His prayer is always, “O God, if there is a God, save my soul if there is a soul.” That’s enough for salvation, I’m sure! Javed thinks that praying all the time is only for people who are trying to gain heaven. “I’m not trying to gain anything. So long as I don’t cheat or hurt anybody, that’s a part of my social consciousness, and it is more than enough.” He’s not sure that there is no God, and is no fanatic where religion is concerned either.
All festivals are celebrated by both families, though nothing in particular interests anybody. “Festivals are just an excuse for us to drink and be merry, so we celebrate them,” explains Javed. What Javed cannot stand is birthday celebrations. While his wife makes preparations a month in advance, he finds it the most awkward day in his life. He concedes that it is a day to be proud of, “But why celebrate? What’s so exciting about coming a year closer to your grave?” he asks. “In fact one should moan, for time is passing you by.” Though not paying much attention to birthdays, Javed remembers everybody else whose birthdays coincide with his, all of them being loud mouths, and with a good sense of humour like himself: Cassius Clay, Idi Amin, to mention only a few. “The one important thing which he forgets is his wedding anniversary,” complained his wife. “Which shows what a big-hearted man I am, I never keep grudges,” he retorted immediately.
That’s when I discreetly took my leave, I didn’t want to be witness to, or a party in, a family tiff!